BBC, Brand, and bias

I’m happy to ignore Russell Brand. Whatever I have heard him say, read of his writings, or seen of his appearances, has done nothing to suggest he is anything of substance, and often the opposite. Now this may be grossly unfair. The man may be a great and deep thinker, a philosopher for our times, or something of the sort. But he may also be an average personality with a reasonable stage presence, a sense of timing, solid media connections, and otherwise empty. And it’s in the latter form that he comes across to me. Further, while I have not made an extensive search, there do not appear to be any people of note promoting Brand as somebody of substance. There have however been plenty giving him the gift of publicity and media exposure. And that’s where this post is heading.

An interview with Brand to promote his book is probably cheap and often seen as entertaining. That goes part of the way. But this piece by David Keighley makes a case for another whole world of reasons.

Even the BBC’s house journal, The Guardian, thinks that Russell Brand’s appearance on Newsnight last Thursday to plug flagrantly his book Revolution was deeply worrying, showed signs of him ‘coasting on the adrenaline of his own Messiah complex’, and that his political beliefs ‘lack coherence’.

The Guardian seems to agree with my assessment. Now I’m worried…

I am not sure what the diagnostic qualifications of the newspaper’s reviewer, Hadley Freeman, are, but she also clearly suggests that there are signs that Brand is actually suffering from hypomania, that is, showing symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.

I have shown the tape to highly-qualified assessment psychologist and her more considered – but perhaps just as alarming – verdict was that Brand does show ‘significant signs of a lack of psychological stability.’

Is that code for saying he is bonkers?

That would perhaps explain why, five years ago, Brand, with his sidekick Jonathan Ross, took such obvious delight on BBC Radio 2 in tormenting the gentle Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs about Brand’s sexual antics with his grand-daughter. His ability to understand the suffering of others is rather limited.

That was a black day, indeed.

So what does it say about the BBC that they decided to go ahead with this latest Newsnight exchange?

Not much. But please go on.

In fact, this was the second Newsnight interview with Brand – last year, much to his clear discomfort and disdain, Jeremy Paxman was also forced by the programme’s editor, ex-Guardian newsman Ian Katz, into going through the motions of treating him seriously. Ms Freeman observes that the appearance led directly to the ignition of Brand’s political ambitions, such as they are.

I wish Jeremy had stood up to Katz. It would have saved us all a lot of crap.

No doubt Katz and his right-on stable of colleagues at Newsnight would argue that Thursday’s interview warranted 17 minutes of the programme’s airtime because he has a huge following on Twitter for his so-called True News website and has now written his book, in which he argues for a grass-roots overthrow of most governments as well as the smashing of capitalism and every ‘corporation’ that makes profits.

Read that last paragraph again. If he is right, the BBC has not so much engaged in dumbing down for the lowest common denominator, but also the lowest commonest dominator. (It just popped out of the keyboard.) Anyway, as Mr Keighley rightly says:

Where are the BBC Trustees when you most need them? In fact, what this ‘interview’ actually demonstrated was not only the fawning incompetence of new Newsnight presenter Evan Davis but also that the BBC – in its pursuit of the very same right-on causes that Brand so ineptly and weirdly espouses – has forfeited any right to be taken seriously as a news organisation.

You can see the wretched recording for the next 30 days on the BBC iplayer, and I have also had a transcript made so that should you wish, you can see in word-by-word detail just how low the BBC has sunk.


But let’s also be clear. Part of the reason for Brand’s dominance [of the interview] was that Davis allowed it and then was unable to contain it. He deliberately gave him oodles of space to insult the BBC, to explain at length his naive belief that ‘direct action’ instead of voting would lead inexorably to the overthrow of nasty capitalists, as well as to expound his conspiracy theories about George W Bush and his family being responsible for 9/11.

As a yardstick of comparison, I have been monitoring appearances by Nigel Farage on the Today programme for almost 15 years, and never once in that time has the corporation given him more than the briefest of slivers of airtime to explain what his political views actually are.

In an equivalent appearance a few days before the European elections in May, Jeremy Paxman forcefully accused Farage of incompetence, cowardice, venality and racism, but asked not a single question about withdrawal from the EU.

Sound familiar? Different part of the world, same one-sided approach? Hold that thought.

Of course Farage is a grown up in the interview stakes and can more than look after himself. But the issue here is this: that Katz and his production team must have briefed Davis to give Brand the opportunity to spout at length the anti-capitalist rhetoric which they also support.

With Farage, the production mission was the opposite; in effect, to rubbish him to the maximum extent and give him no chance at all to talk about his views about the EU.

So to sum up, the Brand interview was a Newsnight exercise in which they deliberately wanted him to have the space to expound his views. Yes, Davis made a couple of rather feeble efforts to suggest that his views about big corporations were not fully coherent, but his manner and tone added up to a virtual endorsement.

In other words, the editorial intent was to give him 17 minutes of airtime to plug his book and his views. Even the Brand cheerleader Guardian has seen it was a totally over-the top exposure for a deeply damaged and ineffectual man who of course has the right to say what he wants – but not, surely, through the medium of the BBC’s supposed television news and current affairs flagship programme. That the production team thought this was legitimate journalism is a disgrace.

In other words of my own, it looks as if the editorial intent was to promote a particular message, without comparison, context, or being tested. Why? Because the BBC people wanted to. It’s the world as they see it.

And so, when it comes to Israel, the world as they see it is no more balanced or reasoned. There are countless times the BBC has given uninterrupted propaganda time to anti-Israel haters. But every Israeli or pro-Israeli spokesman knows to expect a hot time. Why? Because that’s the way the BBC sees the world. Israel and its representatives deserve to be given a hard time. Anti-Israel forces deserve to be given a free rein in their minds.

Until there’s a root and branch overhaul of the BBC management, and maybe also the trustees, do not expect any change.

Russell Brand is trying to develop his brand. The bosses at the BBC are trying to kill theirs.