George Entwistle quits over ‘shoddy’ Newsnight journalism
BBC boss goes after a ‘disastrous’ interview in which he again showed a lack of curiosity in a fiasco enveloping Newsnight
THE BBC is in crisis this morning following the resignation of Director-General George Entwistle after just 54 days in the job. Entwistle quit over the “unacceptable journalistic standards” of a Newsnight report that implicated a senior Tory in child abuse. The BBC’s head of radio Tim Davie will take over as acting Director-General today.
First, the DG admitted he had been unaware that Newsnight was going to broadcast a segment on the night of 2 November implicating a senior Conservative politician in the North Wales care home child abuse scandal. He said he hadn’t even watched the programme because he was "out" that night.
Entwistle compounded this by admitting he hadn’t read a Guardian report on the morning of 9 November saying Newsnight had wrongly implicated the Tory, who the paper named as former Conservative Party Treasurer Lord McAlpine.
McAlpine now says he will sue various media outlets over the reports. His solicitor Andrew Reid told the Mail on Sunday that might include Newsnight. “We have to look at Newsnight and the way in which they behaved,” he said. “They ran the programme, trailed it, and then told everyone where to go and look for the name. They have done a very, very good job in severely damaging Lord McAlpine’s reputation.”
Announcing his resignation last night, Entwistle said: "In the light of the fact that the Director-General is also the editor-in-chief and ultimately responsible for all content, and in the light of the unacceptable journalistic standards of the Newsnight film broadcast on Friday 2 November, I have decided that the honourable thing to do is to step down from the post of director general."
Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust said: “George has very honourably offered us his resignation because of the unacceptable mistakes - the unacceptable shoddy journalism - which has caused us so much controversy.”
But former Labour minister is calling for more resignations: those of Lord Patten and BBC director of news Helen Boaden. He told the BBC: "Unfortunately, there is a culture at the top of the BBC that is vain and out of touch."
The BBC’s Torin Douglas points out that MPs last month, during the DG’s appearance before the House of Commons culture select committee, accused Entwistle of showing "an extraordinary lack of curiosity" over the Jimmy Savile child abuse scandal and told him to "get a grip".
After Entwistle’s similarly unimpressive performance on the Today programme yesterday, says Douglas, “MPs, former editors and broadcasting executives were unimpressed and so, I understand, were members of the BBC Trust”.
David Elstein, the former chief executive of Channel 5, agrees that Entwistle’s performance in front of MPs had “set him up for today’s fall because that was pretty lamentable”. But he questioned the appointment of Tim Davie, director of BBC Audio and Music, as acting Director-General. It was, he said, “a situation bordering on farce” that we now have a man “without one iota of journalism on his CV” acting as the BBC’s editor-in-chief. Elstein called the appointment “absolutely ludicrous”.
Humphrys, whose Today programme interview yesterday proved to be the last straw, said: "Let it settle down. I am not going to gloat. I do what I do. I did what I did."
But not everyone believes Entwistle should have gone. Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, slammed unspecified BBC staff for the DG’s exit. “He has been brought low by cowards and incompetents,” said Paxman. “It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed... while time-servers prosper.”
Armando Ianucci, writer of political satire The Thick of It, struck a similar chord, saying: "George Entwistle is a decent man, brought down by a bucketful of botchers in the Police and Newsnight team." ·