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David Keighley: The BBC plumbed new  depths with its fawning interview with the witless, posturing Russell Brand


Even the BBC’s house journal, The Guardian, thinks that Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight last Thursday to plug flagrantly his book Revolution was deeply worrying, showed signs of him ‘coasting on the adrenaline of his own Messiah complex’, and that his political beliefs ‘lack coherence’.

I am not sure what the diagnostic qualifications of the newspaper’s reviewer, Hadley Freeman, are, but she also clearly suggests that there are signs that Brand is actually suffering from hypomania, that is, showing symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.

I have shown the tape to highly-qualified assessment psychologist and her more considered – but perhaps just as alarming – verdict was that Brand does show ‘significant signs of a lack of psychological stability.’

That would perhaps explain why, five years ago, Brand, with his sidekick Jonathan Ross, took such obvious delight on BBC Radio 2 in tormenting the gentle Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs about Brand’s sexual antics with his grand-daughter. His ability to understand the suffering of others is rather limited.

So what does it say about the BBC that they decided to go ahead with this latest Newsnight exchange?

In fact, this was the second Newsnight interview with Brand – last year, much to his clear discomfort and disdain, Jeremy Paxman was also forced by the programme’s editor, ex-Guardian newsman Ian Katz, into going through the motions of treating him seriously. Ms Freeman observes that the appearance led directly to the ignition of Brand’s political ambitions, such as they are.

No doubt Katz and his right-on stable of colleagues at Newsnight would argue that Thursday’s interview warranted 17 minutes of the programme’s airtime because he has a huge following on Twitter for his so-called True News website and has now written his book, in which he argues for a grass-roots overthrow of most governments as well as the smashing of capitalism and every ‘corporation’ that makes profits.

Where are the BBC Trustees when you most need them? In fact, what this ‘interview’ actually demonstrated was not only the fawning incompetence of new Newsnight presenter Evan Davis but also that the BBC – in its pursuit of the very same right-on causes that Brand so ineptly and weirdly espouses – has forfeited any right to be taken seriously as a news organisation.

You can see the wretched recording for the next 30 days on the BBC iplayer, and I have also had a transcript made so that should you wish, you can see in word-by-word detail just how low the BBC has sunk.

A major point here is that Brand totally dominated this exchange. To do so, he used every trick in the book including pontificating, grandstanding, brief sulking, not answering questions, gurning, menacing anger, changing the subject, hyperbole, and fake familiarity (he touched Davis’s knee no less than 20 times).

His approach reminded me of that other highly-damaged individual, the late Kenneth Williams, on Just a Minute. Brand, in effect, let forth a deluge of excited verbal incontinence and Davis was totally submerged.

But let’s also be clear. Part of the reason for Brand’s dominance was that Davis allowed it and then was unable to contain it. He deliberately gave him oodles of space to insult the BBC, to explain at length his naive belief that ‘direct action’ instead of voting would lead inexorably to the overthrow of nasty capitalists, as well as to expound his conspiracy theories about George W Bush and his family being responsible for 9/11.

As a yardstick of comparison, I have been monitoring appearances by Nigel Farage on the Today programme for almost 15 years, and never once in that time has the corporation given him more than the briefest of slivers of airtime to explain what his political views actually are.

In an equivalent appearance a few days before the European elections in May, Jeremy Paxman forcefully accused Farage of incompetence, cowardice, venality and racism, but asked not a single question about withdrawal from the EU.

Of course Farage is a grown up in the interview stakes and can more than look after himself. But the issue here is this: that Katz and his production team must have briefed Davis to give Brand the opportunity to spout at length the anti-capitalist rhetoric which they also support.

With Farage, the production mission was the opposite; in effect, to rubbish him to the maximum extent and give him no chance at all to talk about his views about the EU.

So to sum up, the Brand interview was a Newsnight exercise in which they deliberately wanted him to have the space to expound his views. Yes, Davis made a couple of rather feeble efforts to suggest that his views about big corporations were not fully coherent, but his manner and tone added up to a virtual endorsement.

In other words, the editorial intent was to give him 17 minutes of airtime to plug his book and his views. Even the Brand cheerleader Guardian has seen it was a totally over-the top exposure for a deeply damaged and ineffectual man who of course has the right to say what he wants – but not, surely,  through the medium of the BBC’s supposed television news and current affairs flagship programme. That the production team thought this was legitimate journalism is a disgrace.

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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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