We have seen that a story broke yesterday (November 18), confirming a UN inspector’s claims about the Conservative government’s policies on benefits – and BBC anchorman Andrew Marr helped a Tory minister brush it under the carpet.
This is not acceptable behaviour for a member of our national news media. We expect them to hold power to account. It might be understandable, at least, if he showed similar leniency to people of all political persuasions – but events were to prove that this was not the case.
It lays both Mr Marr and the BBC open to serious questions about their competence, impartiality and fitness to continue as a news reporter of record.
Shortly after the incident with Kwasi Kwarteng, Mr Marr interviewed Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, discussing Theresa May’s 585-page Brexit deal.
Baroness Chakrabarti showed remarkable restraint when he – patronisingly – asked her if she had read all of the document she was there to discuss – especially as he had not.
Excellent moment from Shami Chakrabarti on #Marr explaining how @UKLabour will stay in line with worker's rights, consumer & environmental protections to be interrupted by Marr asking if she's read the document. She's read all of it & he's read some.
This is journalism? pic.twitter.com/NHQNSDfVaq
— Dan Lewis (@Think_Become) November 18, 2018
But what happened next went beyond the pale. Mr Marr tried to put his interviewee in an impossible – if fake – position, contrasting Labour’s manifesto commitment to honour the result of the 2016 EU referendum with her own preference for remaining in the European Union. When she responded that she was a democrat, he leaned in and warned her not to patronise him.
“Don’t patronise me!” Andrew #Marr snarls angrily at Shami Chakrabarti two minutes after asking her — the Shadow Attorney General — whether she’s read the document she came to talk about. Ok.https://t.co/p5IFTYbj1Z
— Hicham Yezza (@HichamYezza) November 18, 2018
It’s a completely false argument. Baroness Chakrabarti had said “I don’t know about you, Andrew, but I am a democrat.” His claim to be “as much a democrat as you are” strikes hollow, considering he was suggesting that she should have ignored the result of the referendum to follow her own preference. Is that what he would have done? Her excellent response was, in the circumstances, remarkably restrained.
Commenters on the social media were, understandably, less calm about the matter:
"Don't patronise me" says Andrew #Marr to Shami Chakrabarti, after patronising and interrupting her throughout the interview.
— david white (@davidwhite020) November 18, 2018
Nooruddean pointed out: “Andrew Marr doesn’t speak to Theresa May or Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen like this. It’s really unprofessional.”
And Dr Lauren Gavaghan demonstrated that the attitude is evident elsewhere among BBC political anchormen: “Oh lord. Andrew Marr – really? Is this as good as you’ve got? A man with your years of experience?
“It’s as bad as Dimbleby telling me “don’t wag your finger at me young lady” once upon a time on Question Time.”
And James! drew attention to the tactic Mr Marr used to prevent Baroness Chakrabarti from upbraiding him about his own behaviour: “I can’t stop thinking about this from Andrew Marr. Totally unprofessional & uncalled for.
“Note the ‘anyway’ after his attack.
“He wants to draw it to a close and move on.
“Shameful behaviour & really quite sinister. When the mask slips…”
Many made the point that Mr Marr went on to give Dominic Raab – the former Brexit Secretary who did not understand the significance of the Dover-Calais crossing – exactly the same kind of easy ride he had provided to Kwasi Kwarteng earlier in the show:
Tory boy Andrew Marr – shouts interrupts and rants at Sturgeon and Chakrabarti now gently probes Dominic Raab who could so easily and fairly be eviscerated .
— terry christian (@terrychristian) November 18, 2018
Ash Sarkar added: “It’s Andrew Marr’s job to put politicians through the wringer, no matter what their political stripe. I support that. But I just don’t understand why Dominic Raab is getting handled with kid gloves, while Shami Chakrabarti got treated like this?”
But it was MP Dan Carden who made the crucial connection – that Mr Marr supports Conservatives and undermines Labour politicians because that is the current culture at the BBC.
“We have a media that shows deference & respect to its establishment Tory chums, and derision to those who challenge the utterly broken status quo,” he tweeted.
“As Chomsky once brilliantly told Marr – ‘if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting’.”
Here’s the proof:
To be fair to Andrew Marr – you'd be permanently tetchy too, if you'd been Noamslapped as bad as this. pic.twitter.com/ByrIsqP3m2
— EL4C (@EL4JC) November 18, 2018
This corresponds perfectly with the words of UN special rapporteur on poverty, Professor Philip Alston, whose report on poverty in the UK had been dismissed with a query about whether it was “appropriate” by Mr Marr earlier in the programme.
So we see a situation in which Professor Alston’s assertion, that poverty is deliberately inflicted on people by the Conservatives, is proved with an example – that of Emily Lydon. His further claim that the Conservative government is in a “state of denial” is proved by the response of Mr Kwarteng. And the assertions by commenters – that the BBC (and others in the mainstream media) have disguised or hidden the reality, and that the mainstream media are complicit with the Tories – is demonstrated by Mr Marr’s behaviour.
However, in the name of the “balance” that the BBC tries to present in its reporting, I should point out that there were some who supported Mr Marr’s meltdown.
Mennie Maahes tweeted: “I have no problem with anyone telling this mouthy foreigner where to shove her views, Marr did it from the wrong standpoint but still applicable. Interesting Marr is getting annoyed because people will not accept Remain is right-perhaps he now knows what Leave folk feel like?”
However, in the name of accuracy I must add Rachael Swindon’s response: “Referring to The Right Honourable Baroness Shami Chakribarti as a “mouthy foreigner” is rather stupid, what with her being born in the London Borough of Harrow.”
It all contributes to a standard of reporting that falls well below what we should demand of our public service – and publicly-funded – broadcaster. We don’t fund the BBC in order to be force-fed Conservative Party propaganda, no matter what Andrew Marr might think.
Sadly, we are let down by those other members of the national press who we might reasonably expect to hold the BBC to account (for not, in its turn, holding Tory politicians to account). Consider Eoin Clarke’s summary of the way the exchange between Mr Marr and Baroness Chakrabarti was reported:
Media reporting of Marr’s behaviour this morning is a disgrace. It wasn’t a “testy” exchange. It wasn’t a “spat”. Shami wasn’t “stunned”. It wasn’t “a bruising encounter”. It was a pig headed misogynistic outburst that smacked of incumbency bias & disdain for an intelligent woman
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) November 18, 2018
These are serious criticisms.
Sadly, as the BBC is self-regulating, there is no possibility of any change for the better – at least in the immediate future.
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