~ Posted by Robert Butler, November 12th 2012
It was only a couple of years ago that John Humphrys was mocking Twitter on the BBC's "Today" programme. A veteran reporter and interviewer, Humphrys thought Twitter wasn't a serious medium: it was the sort of place where people tell you what they had for breakfast.
This Saturday, it turned out, George Entwistle was what Humphrys had for breakfast. In a withering 15-minute interview on the "Today" programme, Humphrys established that his boss, the director-general of the BBC, had been astonishingly unaware of developments in the "Newsnight" saga. In particular, he had failed to see a tweet that said a forthcoming edition of "Newsnight" was going to claim a senior Tory from the Thatcher era was a paedophile. On Saturday, Entwistle resigned—not following Twitter can end your career.
The director-general of the BBC should not have had to resign because one programme makes a terrible mistake. The job of the DG is to sort out crises, not be overwhelmed by them. But since this one turned out to be hopeless in that regard, there wasn't a choice. Remarkably, Entwistle, a former editor of "Newsnight", didn't appear to have any great interest in the goings-on at "Newsnight", didn't understand media storms and news cycles, and didn't see the importance of getting a grip on the narrative. It's a bad sign when the head of a huge broadcasting organisation performs poorly on TV and radio and in front of a Parliamentary select committee—he even had to read out his short resignation speech from a sheet of paper.
Lord Patten, the BBC Trust and the highly paid head-hunting team that appointed him should take a big share of the blame. They appointed someone who had considerable qualities—honourable, cerebral, experienced. But he lacked three essential ones—curiousity, political nous and survival skills. As another senior BBC broadcaster, David Dimbleby, told Humphrys this morning, Entwistle isn't "a fighter". This was evident, Dimbleby pointed out, from the interview that Entwistle gave Humphrys on Saturday morning. Let's forget about Patten, the BBC Trust and the head-hunters: next time, get Humphrys to interview the candidate.
Robert Butler is online editor of Intelligent Life