On the Today programme on Saturday morning, John Humphrys asked the then director-general of the BBC, George Entwistle, if he was going to resign. Entwistle replied, awkwardly, that he would plough on: he would find out how and why Newsnight had aired a segment repeating old, discredited allegations that a powerful Conservative figure from the 1980s and 1990s had abused children at a Welsh care home. Twelve hours later, Entwistle resigned.
The Telegraph has run two pieces today singing Humphrys’s praises. But the incessant hounding and bullying of interviewees by Humphrys, among others, is one of the problems that led to the Newsnight fiasco; the treatment of subjects as if they’re guilty before an interview has begun. Who hasn’t switched off the radio when Humphrys, in full moral outrage mode, doesn’t allow the person he’s interviewing to finish a sentence? Who hasn’t switched channels when Kirsty Wark or Jeremy Paxman level their disdain at the man or woman sitting opposite them? The self-righteousness of it all, as if intimidation and bullying are the only ways to probe and inquire.
Paxman said yesterday that cuts in the editorial budget are partly to blame. No doubt he’s right about that; fact-checking is a slow, expensive and essential part of any news or current affairs programme. But the hounding of subjects on Today and on Newsnight – that’s been going on for years.