Sunday, May 26, 2024
HomeBBC WatchDavid Keighley: Trump’s ‘Brexit plus plus’ is poor Beeb’s worst nightmare

David Keighley: Trump’s ‘Brexit plus plus’ is poor Beeb’s worst nightmare


For the boys and girls at the BBC, last night was deja-vu all over again. Another worst nightmare come true.

Clearly on their menu as the polls closed across the US was a night of election results coverage which, it was fervently hoped, would feature the beatification of St Hillary as Patrol Saint of Right-on Causes and smasher of glass ceilings everywhere.

This triumph was going to expunge dreadful memories of that devastating night in June when Nigel Farage helped unleash (in the BBC’s frequent estimation) the ‘catastrophe’ of Brexit.

It was a chance, too, to forget the tragedy of May 2015, when, despite months of BBC coverage that the Conservative Party was doomed, Ed Miliband was so unjustly rejected by pesky voters and condemned instead to go back to his bacon sandwich-eating lessons, his three kitchens and to ponder what to do with his miraculous pledge-stone.

Last night, an army of correspondents, as the results began to flow, told us confidently that here was democracy properly in action, and this time their approved candidate, that beneficent St Hillary, would definitely triumph. Pollsters said so.

But then – bang, suddenly! The Florida College was called. Panic stations! What to do?

For 18 months BBC journalists  and presenters had been warning – primarily in the UK, of course, but also through services received in the US – that Trump was the Devil incarnate, an abuser of women, a lover of Russia, and much more on the Dark Side.

The gears started grinding, expressions began to change. As more states swung to the Republicans, how could electors make yet another crass mistake and dare to elect him?

Hillary, their heroine, that breaker of the glass ceilings that Boudicca of climate change, was on the skids. And Trump, the nutcase wall builder, supporter of ‘extreme immigration’ measures, dispenser of buckets of vitriol, of division beyond anything in the world, ever, was….going to win!!!!

The shock was so profound that by 6am when the Today programmed the Corporation clearly had decided it was describing a wake.

Presenter Sarah Montague read the headlines in funereal tones normally reserved for a major tragedy, such as the death of Nelson Mandela.

As the show progressed, she interviewed one of the most pro-Democratic party figures that could be found, the historian Simon Schama, to ask how really, really bad things were. He obliged by suggesting that, in effect, Armageddon was now on the cards: war, an unprecedented economic crash, and the expulsion of the Innocents (sorry, immigrants).

But that was not enough. Montague next suggested that this was on a par with the election of Hitler. Even Schama was not sure about that.

Next up was Economics Editor Kamal Ahmed. He intoned that as exactly as with Brexit, the stock markets were crashing, the dollar was plunging, and investors were rushing with every sinew towards ‘safe’ currencies like the Japanese yen.

Business Editor Dominic O’Connell joined in the refrain, and found a succession of experts who obediently agreed with and amplified the Ahmad message of crash, bust and impending doom.

Still not enough. Today dug deeper into its contacts book to find another guest who would tell the audience what a world disaster was unfolding. On came Tony Blair’s favourite civil servant, Jonathan Powell, and he duly delivered: to him, this was undoubtedly the worst political event, on a par with Brexit. Under Trump, the US would become isolationist, dangerous, and belligerent.

And what about the poor immigrants? BBC World Service correspondent Nuala McGovern in Mexico had found some Mexicans in a restaurant. They were not happy bunnies. The Trump approach to border security was ‘very worrisome’ and already what he planned had caused the  peso to plunge at least 15 per cent in value.

On it went. Embittered Democrats joined in the refrain and made it plain that no hatchets were going to be buried anytime soon.  During the programme, Trump made his acceptance speech, but that was merely a punctuation mark in the deluge of disaster.

Perhaps there were odd words or phrases here and there in the programme that were less negative, especially from James Naughtie, but they were well and truly swamped.

This, without doubt was another edition of the BBC’s The Great Catastrophe Show, and it joins the Brexit morning coverage and that of the 2015 General Election as a classic of its kind.

(Image: Gage Skidmore)

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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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