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List this Seller's Books. Payment Methods accepted by seller. AbeBooks Bookseller Since: August 24, Yet its job is to hold up a mirror to society and reflect back to the audiences what it sees. For good or ill. It should not try to create society in its own image. It should not try to place its powerful finger on one side of the scale of social justice.
To confuse the two is to undermine the job of a journalist. Imagine a defence correspondent announcing that he sees himself as the mouthpiece for the Armed Forces. Or the health correspondent as the mouthpiece of the NHS. Or even, heaven forfend, the royal correspondent as the mouthpiece of the Royal Family.
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It worries me that the nation has become susceptible to certain pressure groups in a way that we should all find disturbing. It means influencing policy — even dictating it — through fear rather than argument. They destroy those who disagree with them, often through personal attacks on their character or by sheer intimidation. A relatively recent phenomenon in the BBC is the growth of groups of employees who conflate and, perhaps, confuse their own interests with those of the wider world. The logic seems to be that if they feel strongly about a given issue, the BBC should not only listen to them but modify its output to reflect their own world view.
A generation ago, they might have been listened to politely and then shown the door. One small example was an edition of Question Time. It included a question from a member of the audience who was worried that it might not be morally appropriate for five-year-old children to be taught about LGBT issues. Humphrys right with the other presenters in the studio at New Broadcasting House on Thursday.
Quite right, too. Jon is an old friend. On this particular morning, there was a lot to banter about.
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My fellow presenter was to be our China editor, Carrie Gracie — one of several correspondents who stood in occasionally as presenters. She was good at it: confident, composed, quick-witted and well-informed. So I was looking forward to presenting with her. The reason she gave was to light the fuse on an explosion that would cause enormous damage to the BBC. It would cost it a fortune in salary increases but, far more important, it would present the BBC to the world as a duplicitous, double-dealing, dishonest, deceitful, disloyal organisation that had treated hundreds like her with contempt.
Her claim was that she and her colleagues were being punished for the sin of being the wrong gender. This was an extremely grave charge to bring against any organisation, let alone the BBC, which is owned by its licence-payers. So when my boss told me about the letter, I came to the only possible conclusion.
Carrie Gracie should certainly appear on Today — not as a presenter but as an interviewee. The reason was obvious. This was clearly a big story. It would have enormous implications for the BBC. Today had to report it, just as it would any other big story. I said as much to my boss. More throat-clearing. I despaired. It made the Kremlin circa look sophisticated.
I used some pretty robust language to say what I thought about that, and in the end we reached a compromise.
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A ridiculous compromise, but it was either resign in protest or settle for it. The BuzzFeed news website which was the first to publish her open letter to licence-fee payers describes it as explosive and a bombshell. And [slight sigh] at this point [slight laugh] — given that Carrie is sitting. JH: Well, indeed, given that you are sitting next to me in the studio, perhaps listeners would expect me to do a really tough interview with you about that bombshell letter. JH: Well — just about the reaction. Carrie then had the opportunity to make her case, which was fine, but I was banned from asking her any questions about it, which was not.
And that was that. An utterly pointless and rather embarrassing exchange. The BBC had managed to shoot itself in the foot, not once but twice. First, by allowing somebody at the centre of a hugely controversial story concerning the BBC to present a programme like Today. Second, by preventing the other presenter me from conducting a rigorous interview with her about very serious allegations. Which takes me back to that 4am chat with Jon Sopel. Before we began the recording, I pretended that instead of talking to him about Donald Trump, as planned, I wanted to discuss the Carrie Gracie affair in the context of his own salary and how much higher it was than hers.
I also suggested that he might consider sacrificing some of his own pay to help even things out. He pointed out that my salary was even higher, so if anyone should take a cut it was me. The jokey exchange took no more than a minute and I forgot all about it. And then, two days later, one of the bosses phoned. Somebody had leaked it. It was inevitable, the boss said, that it would find its way onto social media.
I was right up there with Trump. It was manna from heaven for those militant feminists who already regarded men as the natural enemy. They had a new villain in their sights. I had no idea how to react.
It was a joke, OK? A pretty silly one, admittedly, but it was 4am and I was talking to an old mate. But I cannot deny that I enjoy arguing. Nor would I deny I approach people in power with a pretty strong dose of scepticism. Despite that, I wish my colleagues and I had managed to find a better way of doing political interviews.
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Indeed, I fear we may have travelled too far from the days of deference to an era of open combat, with too many interviews seen as a gladiator sport. In my early years on Today, I tended to get a little heated. Too heated. So I did a lot of interrupting, even occasionally raising my voice a little.
In other words, I often went over the top and sometimes, to my great shame, lost my temper. I like to think that, as the years went by, I calmed down. Even so, the temptation — sometimes irresistible — for a Today presenter is to imagine oneself wearing the wig of a prosecuting barrister whose job is to prove the defendant guilty. But is that what we want? Yet politicians are not often on trial for some heinous crime.
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