Another long day in the life of the BBC. It has a lot of those these days, since it replaced Brexit as the new, central battleground in the national forever culture war.
First, there’s Newsnight’s Nick Watt, being pursued through the streets by a deranged mob, bellowing “traitor!” in his face, for having the temerity to cover their protest, which they will of course later claim the BBC did not cover.
And then, inside the palace of Westminster – as opposed to the streets outside it – its old director general, Tony Hall, is facing something of a select committee-cum-firing squad interrogation over who didn’t know what and when about the Martin Bashir/Princess Diana interview 25 years ago.
Whatever committee chair Julian Knight has to say about institutional failure at the BBC a quarter of a century ago, one suspects it will damage those involved somewhat less than Prince William’s blistering attack on them when the Bashir report was published.
Knight is one of a clique of Tory MPs who have had it in for the BBC for some time, entirely on ideological grounds. Last year he asked Tony Hall if the BBC was “too woke”, a question so stupid no quotable answer could possibly have been forthcoming.
Later last year, a member of Knight’s committee also asked the new BBC Director General, Tim Davie, why there weren’t any pictures of Union Jacks in its annual report. This, for what it’s worth, is without question the single stupidest thing I have heard any MP say in the six years I’ve been listening to them.
Knight, naturally, is fortunate that the Bashir revelations gave him a rare chance to claim the moral high ground and actually find it. This is not usually the case. Last year he picked a fight with Marcus Rashford and was found, as is traditional, somewhat catastrophically wanting.
Hall apologised for the errors that were made. Bashir was again disowned as a “liar on an industrial scale”. Which he was, and said lies were fairly well known for a decade or so before he was rehired as the BBC’s Religious Affairs Correspondent in 2016.
That the BBC has been found to have done wrong hardly requires anybody else’s assistance to point out. The BBC in full self-flagellation mode is still one of the most grisly sights around, and has been foisted on the public with metronomic regularity at least every couple of years, since Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand left that voicemail 13 years ago.
The terrifying pursuit of Watt through the streets has naturally “shocked” and “appalled” all the people who have been deriding the BBC and undermining it for commercial and ideological reasons for years.
The Watt footage isn’t shocking at all. It’s horrifying, but not shocking. It is the inevitable consequence of sustained attack – a deadly alliance of mad conspiracy theorists and the mainstream, everyday voices who legitimise them.
Priti Patel has condemned the footage, but yesterday couldn’t bring herself to condemn football fans booing the England team as it made its usual stand against systemic racial injustice. It’s also worth noting that where she failed to condemn them was on the brand new GB News, which continues to make clear that its USP is little more than to take a stand against the “woke”, to give a voice to the ignored, to the ordinary man on the street, who it seems to think has been forgotten, despite having the most right-wing government quite possibly in the nation’s history, existing in perpetual service to them.
It’s a truly potent mix, this. To have the government entirely on your side, but still finding yourself able to protest your own powerlessness. Who knows the depths they might find themselves able to reach.
Of course, something shocking, really shocking, will doubtless happen in the end. The question is whether it’s already too late to stop it.
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