Andy McSmith's Diary: Is Ian Katz right for Newsnight?


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Indy Politics

BBC’s Newsnight has been through seven turbulent months, taking in the Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine fiascos, and last night’s apology for a “misleading and unfair” item about the Help for Heroes charity. What the programme manifestly needs is an editor with good judgement. They have got Ian Katz, deputy editor of The Guardian.

His was the imaginative mind behind the great Guardian Clark County stunt, which came to him in a north London pub. In 2004, during the US Presidential contest between George Bush and John Kerry, The Guardian launched a project to “pair” readers with undecided voters in Clark County, Ohio, in the hope of persuading them not to vote for Bush. On day one, 4,000 people visited the Guardian website wanting to be paired; within days, there were 14,000. The publicity it generated was global. The outcome was not so good. In 2000, the Democrat, Al Gore, had narrowly won Clark County. In 2004, it swung to Bush.

Katz’s appointment set off some ill-informed Twitter commentary about left-wing bias at the BBC, but not all Guardian executives are left wing. The operative question is not Katz’s politics. How steady is his judgement?

Wharton’s private interests

James Wharton, the 29-year-old Tory MP from Stockton South who, by the luck of the draw, will have the honour of presenting a Bill in the Commons that would guarantee an in/out referendum, is a man of diverse interests. Three months after his election in 2010, the Newcastle Chronicle reported that he had written to a local quango urging them to speed-up a grant to a firm run by one of his friends, which sold giant penis statues. Time to update that children’s classic, James and the Giant Peach.

Councillor reveals Tyler scrape

Bonnie Tyler, the 61-year-old Welsh power-ballad star, who was very big in 1983, is the person chosen to bomb for Britain in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. This has evoked memories for Paul Braithwaite, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Camden, who worked for RCA records in his youth. In July 1976, he tells the Camden Journal, he was booked for speeding while driving Tyler home from a gig in Hereford at two in the morning.

He already had nine points on his licence, so hired a barrister and took the case to court to plead that using a car was vital to his work. By ill luck, the hearing clashed with the arrival from the US of a furious managing director of RCA, who had flown in to fire those responsible for signing up the Sex Pistols, including the future Councillor Braithwaite. This made him late for the hearing, but his barrister did such a good job that he was allowed to keep his licence anyway.