Listening to BBC director general George Entwistle’s interview with John Humphrys on Today this morning was like witnessing a car crash in slow motion. Humphrys was as amazed as anyone else that Entwistle was totally unaware that Newsnight was broadcasting a report that all but named a top Tory as a paedophile. The allegation was totally false. The interview must surely represent Entwistle’s BBC exit interview.
After Newsnight’s disastrous scrapping of its exposure of Jimmy Savile as a serial child abuser, it’s impossible to understand how this new report wasn’t seen as an obvious one to refer to the highest levels. (Entwistle is supposed to be the BBC’s editor in chief.) Yet the top man was as hopelessly out of touch as over the Savile saga.
It shows a complete failure of management. Any competent chief executive would have put the BBC on a war footing over the past six weeks. He (or she) would have insisted any sensitive issue that might escalate the BBC’s crisis must be referred to him. He’d have made sure that top executives were on top of any situation. Yet what does Entwistle do? Nothing, if the latest Newsnight own goal is any indication.
It was painful to listen to Entwistle’s pathetic excuses during today’s Humphrys interview. Why didn’t he intervene? He was giving a speech. He was out. Why didn’t he see the tweet 24 hours before Newsnight’s broadcast telling the world what it would be reporting? He only looks at Twitter occasionally and missed it. (So why didn’t the BBC PR bosses alert him?)
Entwistle once again came across as a thoroughly decent man who would have made an excellent middle ranking official. But he’s no leader. He has learned nothing from the events of the last six months. His reaction to the latest disaster? Asking for yet another inquiry. That’s not leadership. It’s desperately delaying the inevitable: his resignation.
UPDATE: George Entwistle tonight resigned as the 15th director general of the BBC after less than three months.
Here’s the transcript of the Humphrys v Entwistle Today interview.