After BBC politics host and Spectator magazine head man Andrew Neil garnered significant adverse comment by referring to the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr as “Karol Kodswallop” and called her a “mad cat woman” - thus aligning himself, deliberately or otherwise, with the alleged “man who bankrolled Brexit” Arron Banks, who has waged a campaign of abuse against Ms Cadwalladr for months, the climbdown began.
Sadly, all the BBC News Press Team could manage was a Tweet telling “There has been some discussion on here regarding a tweet from Andrew Neil about Carole Cadwalladr. He has deleted the tweet and recognises it was inappropriate”. Neil Retweeted the Tweet. But neither he, nor the Beeb, said sorry. There was, though, a statement.
“Andrew acknowledges that the tweet was inappropriate, and it was removed shortly after it was posted. The tweet was sent from Andrew’s personal account, however the BBC has social media guidelines which it expects all staff to follow and these have been discussed with Andrew” it told. So still no apology. And then it got worse.
That was because Director General Lord Hall-Hall had told anyone prepared to listen that he was appalled at the abuse journalists receive on Twitter. While the organisation which he leads did, er, very little about the abuse one journalist was receiving on Twitter.
Now matters have got worse still: as the Guardian has reported, “Senior female BBC journalists have complained to executives at the corporation about the presenter Andrew Neil, after he failed to apologise for calling an Observer journalist a ‘mad cat woman’ … Neil … made the comment about Carole Cadwalladr”. And there was more.
“The language echoed that used by Leave.EU’s founder, Arron Banks, who has regularly branded Cadwalladr a ‘mad cat lady’ during her investigation into his Brexit activities and business empire - comments widely criticised as misogynistic”. And more.
“Neil later deleted the tweets and retweeted a statement from the BBC press office saying he ‘recognises it was inappropriate’ to send the message … But the BBC journalists, who declined to be identified because of potential repercussions [my emphasis], said this was not enough and confirmed complaints had been made to executives about the ‘sexist’ comment on Neil’s combative Twitter account”.
Moreover, “The BBC would not comment on speculation that Neil had refused to formally apologise over the comments”. An employee, or someone with similar status, refusing an instruction from management is gross misconduct and a sackable offence. That’s the kind of sackable gross misconduct that saw Jeremy Clarkson out the door.
Small wonder Ms Cadwalladr has noted “Thank you also to all the #BBCWomen who have sent me private messages of outrage, dismay & solidarity. Imagine working for a publicly-funded media organisation where you're worried about speaking out about misogyny for ‘fear of repercussions’”, while Owen Jones responded “This is grim”, and Steven Barnett reminded the Corporation “BBC social media guidance for staff includes advice not to ‘say anything that compromises your impartiality’ nor to ‘sound off about things in an openly partisan way” … Apparently doesn't apply to Andrew Neil”.
The Clarkson saga showed that no presenter was bigger than the BBC. So what are Lord Hall-Hall and his fellow managers waiting for? If Andrew Neil declined an instruction to apologise to Carole Cadwalladr, he should walk. After all, as the man said in The Ipcress File, he’s done all right for a passed-over Major.
The age of Andrew Neil at the BBC was for a time, but not for all time.
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