After the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr was shouted down by a clearly rehearsed attack from mercenary right-wing hack Isabel Oakeshott during a recent paper review session on The Andy Marr Show (tm), with the host apparently unable to either intervene, or see the glaringly obvious evidence of misbehaviour in the various Leave campaigns, the whiff of suspicion has been hanging over the BBC and its coverage of Brexit issues.
That is because the Marr Show episode was not an isolated incident: while media outlets elsewhere in the world have devoted considerable attention to the Cambridge Analytica - Aggregate IQ - SCL - Brexit - electoral interference subject area, the Beeb has for some reason shied away from it. And now has come the intervention of Andrew Neil, still a presenter for the Corporation, to try and dismiss the story over again.
Neil has taken a dismissive tone from the start, but all he has achieved is to show that he is far from a disinterested, er, Spectator. “Either a sophisticated April Fool - or a dagger to the heart of the investigation” he declared at the Observer’s correction issued last Sunday. Reading the same day’s instalment of Ms Cadwalladr’s investigation was seemingly too much for him. He then declined Alastair Campbell’s advice to be more cautious.
“It's a pretty fundamental ‘error’. And buried way inside the paper. That's not good journalism, broadsheet or tabloid. I'm also wary of ideologically-driven investigations (as opposed to simple search for truth) which leads to mistakes like this”. What “mistake”? Tim Atkin also advised caution: “It's a lawyers' holding letter. It's not a ‘dagger to the heart’ of the investigation”. But to that, The Great Man could only sneer “The lawyer's letter was immediately accepted as the basis for a pretty comprehensive correction. Maybe stick to the wine-tasting?”. So what was driving Neil’s dismissiveness?
We can see how he might have gone wrong: Neil has commented approvingly on the output of Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, someone who should never be taken on trust. But Neil has taken him on trust - Wickham has been allowed to peddle his dishonesty at the Spectator.
Meanwhile, Ms Cadwalladr had exposed Neil’s motivation for all to see. “The Bad Boys of Brexit is the gift that keeps on giving. Here's @Arron_banks talking about the time @afneil invited him to meet some potential pro-Brexit donors at his private society, the Addison Club” she observed, before serving up the pièce de résistance: “Ha! Look who else is a member of @afneil’s secret elite dining society stacked with pro-Brexit donors. It’s only @michael_gove!” So the Minister for Murdoch is in there too.
The Proper Investigative Journalist from the Observer now mocked Neil - “Hey @afneil, I want to join your secret club of people who rule Britain. How do I apply?” - before putting him straight. “Here's @afneil calling @chrisinsilico's evidence to @commonsCMS 'hearsay'. Yoo hoo, Andrew! Here's the documents the committee published that back it all up. I genuinely think you need to recuse yourself from this story”. Quite. Also, those in Neil’s exclusive club include Michael Ashcroft, patron of … Isabel Oakeshott.
Andrew Neil takes the Fawkes rabble on trust, which is most unwise. He then sneers at evidence which just happens to make his chosen side of the Brexit debate look seriously dodgy. As a result, he is now in one of those Very Difficult Positions. No surprise there.