Just under 48 hours ago I spotted a tweet from the BBC’s well known political journalist Andrew Neil – someone retweeted it into my timeline:

Oh. The biggest political crisis since late 1940s? Really? Berlin Wall going up, anyone?

My response:

Probably not my finest tweet.

But it received this reply from Neil:

(I did like this response from Chris Hanretty to this one!)

To which my response was:

🔥 🔥 🔥

Then Twitter went a bit wild. Not only is it my most retweeted tweet of all time, but it also gained me almost 5000 new followers in less than 48 hours. I was even asked to explain it on James O’Brien’s show on LBC radio. I did also appreciate replies like this one that pointed out that Neil was mansplaining to… a man!

But Neil was not done.

Then came this:

And this reply:

And then this (proving that he can Google at least! 👏):

Probably the best response to that is actually a quote from Neil’s heroine Margaret Thatcher:

I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.

But to the serious point here.

What does Neil think he is doing? And is this behaviour befitting for one of the BBC’s major political journalists?

Not only does Neil reveal astounding ignorance with his tweet about Germany’s political crisis, but when it is pointed out to him that is not right, he doubles down and attacks all the more – and makes it personal. And I was not the only one on the receiving end of this – Christian Odendahl had a separate spat with him about polling about the FDP leaving the coalition talks.

With my tweet that started “Andrew – you said this was the most serious” (see above) I was even trying to give Neil a way out. A way to go, yeah, well, perhaps I got carried away there. But no. He dug further.

All of this has echoes of my spat with the BBC’s Andrew Marr just under a year ago.

What is it with these big beasts of the BBC? Are they now so full of themselves that they think they can get away with anything, insult anyone, and expect no one to come back against what they say? Or are they so insulated by their sense of their own importance that no one can any longer say, look, Andrew, isn’t it time to step away from the keyboard?

Having seen the raw and unvarnished behaviour of both Neil and Marr up close, any trust I had for their reporting of Germany (in the case of Neil) and Brexit (in the case of Marr) is irreparably damaged. And their enduring prominent role at the BBC diminishes the Corporation as well. Far from bringing the BBC’s journalists closer to the broadcaster’s audiences it instead reveals biases, arrogance, a flippant approach, and a lack of professionalism, that would never dare be seen on screen.

What do I learn personally from the episodes? That keeping calm, using measured vocabulary, and relentlessly and determinedly pursuing an issue can indeed lead to a good result. Yet all the while with the slightly sour aftertaste that the BBC, the broadcaster that shaped my childhood, is not what it was.

9 Comments

  1. Brian Watson

    Good to see you besting the beast .

  2. Stephen McElroy

    The BBC is in existential crisis; it’s once-revered integrity now undermined by the big beasts of dogmatic neoliberalism and anachronistic (Or is it parachronistic?) imperialists.
    Or just maybe, we are seeing the underbelly of the British Establishment; once hidden; now exposed.
    Stephen McElroy

  3. Jon, you are absolutely correct, the BBC is nothing more than an institutionally corrupt, third rate propaganda outlet for a morally bankrupt British establishment. The BBC’s employees, such as Andrew Neil and Andrew Marr, reflect that biased, corrupt, arrogant, right wing, establishment viewpoint.

  4. donnywho

    Great piece.

    But you really do not get the full force of their despite.

    Try being a Scottish Nationalist and watch these buffoons daily lie and obfuscate the “News”. Interviews are now merely the interviewer ranting at his “target”, the latest and best was Jon Snows effort with Salmond.

    The BBC will tolerate no divergence from their world view. That is why you had a wee spat with the inestimable Niel. Your view did not fit with BBC group think and is therefore wrong. Your qualifications matter not, the BBC is right and in it’s own mind famous for it’s veracity worldwide.

  5. Well done. When I (non-aggressively) challenged AN about his impartiality given his close and continuing links to Murdoch he blocked me. I’m a big supporter of the BBC generally, but BBC News is, I’m afraid, fatally wounded, tainted, partial.

  6. diabloandco

    Kind of Mr Neil to corroborate my very low opinion of him – his ignorance and arrogance there for all to see.

  7. John Woodman

    Neil’s whole career has been built on arrogance and aggression. Marr is just as arrogant – he sees himself as the polymath of our times – but less obviously aggressive. And – absolutely – the BBC and it’s pundits are not what they were.

  8. Stuart Mackenzie

    Very interesting episode, Jon. I wonder if this is an illustration of older journalists having difficulty with the very concept of social media? For most of their careers they have not had to deal with public challenges to their “authoritative” views, apart from the odd letter to the editor. This may lead, in their minds, to an illusion: my view hasn’t been challenged therefore I must be right. Lay readers, listeners and viewers have no means of determining whether they are right or not, so their authority remains undiminished in the eyes of the general public. That authority is, in turn, used as a marketing tool by their employer, thus reinforcing their status in their own minds, that of their employers and that of the general public. A potentially powerful positive feedback loop is created in which the social authority of the views can become separated from the facts. Possibly a structural feature of personality driven journalism that contributes to the “fake news” phenomenon?

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