After all the adverse comment passed on the BBC’s propensity to give airtime to the likes of shameless liar Tom Harwood, replacement teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, one might have thought that the Corporation’s own staff would keep their heads down and leave the clear-up to Lord Hall-Hall and his minions.
But that thought would have been in vain. Jennifer Cassidy saw Harwood claiming that the last Labour Government “almost bankrupted the country” (totally untrue, and displays nothing more than economic illiteracy), and responded “I’ve debated for over a month on whether to call this out. Fearful of the backlash. But here it is: there is zero reason to have this guy on any news channel. Speaking as an expert. He is not. He consistently spouts lies. Giving opinions as facts. It is insulting to see this”. Then came a reply.
The reply, though, was not from the DG or his team, but in the form of an intervention from presenter Evan Davies, despite his not having been tagged in Dr Cassidy’s Tweet. “Jennifer, we often deploy partisan journalists to make an argument. Not as experts as such, but as articulate and informed proponents of a point of view. I think our audiences know exactly where they are coming from and how to interpret them”. Yeah, right.
This was a campaign destined to turn out not necessarily to his advantage. Chris Smith got the ball rolling: “You audience is diverse. Some of them are easily fooled. Harwood is a propagandist and a liar. His lies once out into the ether cannot be retrieved. No amout of ‘fact checking’ counters the lies. Wake up mate, you are a facilitator of a very nasty future”.
Steve Analyst pointed out “But seriously, don't you care about the quality of your output? It's fine to have people on both sides of the debate, but if one isn't being honest, it's not a debate, it's a game”. And to Harwood and his pals, it is indeed a game.
One Tweeter added “Evan. You are losing this argument at the BBC. You’re losing it so obviously and so badly it’s getting embarrassing to watch you defend it. The BBC used to call out lies, not allow factually incorrect opinions (and dangerous ones at that) to be put out as facts”. Another pointed out “Evan, that is one of the silliest things you have ever said. You have just justified inviting on any articulate liar and expecting your audience to filter out the truth. That is PRECISELY why we are in the dog mess we're in now”.
It got worse. “You’re not a social media forum. You’re the BBC. People expect you not to allow falsehoods unchallenged. You are VERY out of touch if you think everyone can distinguish between truth and falsehood. Not everyone is a news junkie, let alone a full-time paid one … Harwood is hardly a ‘journalist’. A ‘point of view’ is not an outright lie that goes unchallenged. The audiences are not aware of lies until they get corrected on social media long after the lie has taken root”. And there was more.
The Spiller Of Tea put it bluntly. “Our morally bankrupt abdication of our responsibility as a public service broadcaster leads us to book ignorant gobshites who we’re fully aware will further lower the standard of political discourse in this country with their demonstrably false wank”. To which another Tweeter added “He’s using your footage to publicise his views to his own audience. Do you think that audience also knows where he’s coming from and how to interpret it? Or do you think that perhaps they see his views gaining legitimacy through being aired by the world-respected BBC?” Well, quite.
Ben Bartolf came back to the main point: “Mate, you're essentially greenlighting propaganda. After the fact retractions or counters don't achieve anything, once the lie is out there, it's out there. It's not for the audience to quality check the content you put out, that's your job as an unbiased outlet”. And Colin Lawson had a reminder for Davis.
“Journalism 101: ‘If someone says it's raining & another person says it's dry. It's not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the window and find out which is true.’ Evan, all we are asking is that you look out the window & do your best, to tell us the truth”. Or, indeed, whoever ends up having to moderate Harwood and his tendency to dishonesty.
The willingness of some within the BBC to not only excuse their invitations to Astroturf lobby groups, partisan and dishonest journalists, and the likes of the Fawkes rabble should worry all of us. Because all of us is who is paying for the Corporation. And it is all of us who is being royally short changed by this appeasement of falsehood and misinformation.
Evan Davis needs to get real. And so do his BBC colleagues. That is all.
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