As always, when the Beeb starts tearing itself apart in the public eye, it’s a surreal sight. The BBC News homepage leads with the headline “‘Radical overhaul needed’ at the BBC”; their rolling news channel is interviewing Polly Toynbee, of all people, asking her whether the BBC can survive. A BBC journalist asks her “Is the BBC too big and cumbersome?” You would think, really, that he would be in a better position to answer the question than she is.
But the self-flagellation has reached a new level today. Jeremy Paxman, the great horse-faced inquisitor of Newsnight, has launched a furious assault on the workings of the BBC via his agents’ Twitter feed:
George Entwistle’s departure is a great shame. He has been brought low by cowards and incompetents. The real problem here is the BBC’s decision, in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry, to play safe by appointing biddable people. They then compounded the problem by enforcing a series of cuts on programme budgets, while bloating the management. I had hoped that George might stay to sort this out. It is a great pity that a talented man has been sacrificed while time-servers prosper. I shall not be issuing any further statements or doing any interviews.
The actual mistakes at Newsnight, the real foul-ups that led to an innocent man being smeared as a paedophile on national television, were probably made by a group of 25-year-olds whom none of us will have heard of. But in the public mind, Paxo is practically synonymous with Newsnight, with BBC news in general: his opinion matters. If he’s lobbing these sort of grenades, it will get attention: maybe George Entwistle falling on his sword is not enough. Lord Patten this morning has waved away questions about his own job, but those questions will start getting louder.