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2017 Revisited – January: Trump replaces Farage as Auntie’s new whipping boy


2017 Revisited: A look back through the eyes of TCW’s top writers

First posted .

Is there anything the BBC won’t now do to discredit Donald Trump or figures on the so-called Right?

For years, their chief bogeyman in the ‘Right-wing and ‘populist’ category was Nigel Farage, who was cast in interview after interview as xenophobic at best, racist at worst, incompetent and venal.

The treatment was a form of painting by numbers in which, on almost every occasion, formulaic questions about his character and ineptitude trumped the need to investigate how important his core policies and ideas actually were.

After June 23, 2016, the Corporation could and should have produced a programme showing how over almost two decades Farage spearheaded, against all the odds and the relentless opposition of the media, the drive towards the Brexit vote.

Instead, they concocted a crude and seriously unfunny alleged ‘satire’ that regurgitated all the allegations they had been spraying against him throughout those 20 years.

From the moment Donald Trump began pursuing his political goals, the same anti-populist approach was adopted. The charge sheet against him was that he was, well, Donald Trump – (shock, horror) a businessman, a billionaire, ‘Right-wing’, xenophobic and venal, and above all, not a Democrat or Hillary Clinton.

From dawn on Wednesday, that resentment was sharply evident. Using Buzzfeed’s so-called intelligence dossier that on the BBC’s own admission they had not been able to verify, the President-elect came under all-out no-holds-barred attack from a bewildering array of BBC presenters and correspondents.

Their watchword? Never let the facts – or niceties such as the journalistic ethics covered in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines – get in the way of a chance to kick this (in their estimation) dangerous buffoon.

So indiscriminate was the venom that US correspondent Jon Sopel even resorted to ridiculing Trump – on Today, the BBC’s so-called flagship news and current affairs programme – because he was a ‘man of a certain age’ who got up early in the morning, and had then to go to the bathroom.

On the one hand, BBC correspondents, typified by Nick Bryant, reported on Wednesday morning with eulogising obeisance Barack Obama’s farewell speech. Bryant crowed that the outgoing President was ‘one of the most gifted speakers ever to occupy the White House, the Poet Laureate of his own Presidency’, and added: ‘Barack Obama is a leader who will have the word “era” attached to his name.’

On the other hand, ‘the intelligence dossier’ was used with undisguised glee. US reporter Paul Wood led the way by dismissing, in effect, Trump’s rebuttal and instead magnified its importance. As Craig Byers adroitly summed up in his observations: ‘He thinks the evidence of blackmail tapes is strong because his sources have told him that “there’s more than one tape; there was audio as well as video; it was on more than one date and in more than one place . . .”’

On that basis, the direct attacks on Trump continued unabated in main bulletins for a full 24 hours.

By Thursday morning, as well as the bathroom-related observations from Sopel, it was being said on Today that Trump was ‘at war’ with the intelligence community, and that the Democrats were now talking about ‘impeachment even before his inauguration’. In the BBC’s world, there could be no doubt: a dangerous clown of the first magnitude was about to take command in the White House.

As the BBC’s 2017 Charter comes into effect, banker Sir David Clementi has this week been named as the first Chairman of the Corporation’s new unitary board.

Top of his agenda should be that the BBC has now abandoned any pretence of impartiality in the reporting of what is sees as ‘populism’. And pigs might fly. The reality is that almost every BBC Chairman has gone native from the minute of assuming the role.

Yet, in the past six months, the Corporation has in effect declared war on both Trump and Brexit. The Conservative government is also under an all-fronts attack. These are dangerous, uncharted waters and unless Clementi does take swift, radical action, even the £4billion-a-year BBC could hit the rocks.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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