It is no secret to media watchers that Andrew Neil, still given a berth at the BBC, can become seriously tetchy when cornered. The man who is also chairman of the increasingly alt-right Spectator magazine has significant previous form for this, as anyone who remembers his defensive and righteous response to questions on the Sunday Times libelling of a key witness to the Gibraltar shootings will know.
Neil was editor of the paper at the time that Thames Television screened the documentary Death on the Rock, which examined the killing of three IRA members who happened to be unarmed. Carmen Proetta, a Gibraltar resident who saw the shooting take place, was then smeared by a large part of our free and fearless press. The Sunday Times libelled her twice. Brillo was on the hair trigger when questioned about that for years afterwards.
So it should have surprised no-one when Owen Jones mentioned the Spectator in a discussion last night on BBC This Week, which Neil chairs. Jones was clearly taking no prisoners; he also skewered Michael Portillo on the so-called “hostile environment” and the blaming by Tories of societal problems on ethnic minority groups.
But it was when Neil moved the discussion to the far-right, and tried - predictably - to suggest that the left was as bad, and indeed indulging in similar behaviour, that The Great Man came badly unstuck. Jones reminded him of his role at the Spectator, and that the magazine had published a slew of far-right sympathising articles.
There had been Taki Theodoracopulos praising Golden Dawn in Greece, Rod Liddle suggesting that there was not enough Islamophobia in the Tory Party, Taki (once more) suggesting that blacks had lower IQs, and penning “In praise of the Wehrmacht”. Jones could have mentioned the continuing award of a platform by the Spectator to Doug Murray The K, he of “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.
So what was the Brillo response? Simples. He moved to shout Jones down: “I am many things Owen Jones, but I am not naive”. Jones was not amenable to being shouted down: “I will finish what I was going to say … everyone can look at the record of the Spectator”. Faced with this little local difficulty, Brillo snapped. He accused Jones of pushing “lies and smears”, although he wasn’t, a stance which Zelo Street regulars will find familiar.
Brillo has form for shouting "liar" ...
After Spectator Australia, a magazine with a circulation of just 8,000, had agreed to pay the equivalent of £327,000 in damages to settle a libel case, which could top £500,000 when costs are added, I suggested its future may be in doubt. Brillo snapped back “Blocked for spreading not just fake news but downright lies. Spectator Australia just finished its most profitable year ever. Expansion plans for 2018. Bye, liar”.
... and don't even mention this place to him
His default mode is to call “liar” on others - while making statements which are demonstrably untrue (“most profitable year ever” after settling that libel case? Er, no). Now he’s done it on live TV. He’ll have to hope that Owen Jones is more charitably inclined than Carmen Proetta was all those years ago. It could prove an expensive meltdown.
The time of Brillo at the Beeb was for a time, but not for all time.
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