Huffpost UK Politics uk

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Gone In 55 Days

Posted: Updated:
GEORGE ENTWISTLE
Getty Images

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 11th November...

1) GONE IN 55 DAYS

Poor ol' George Entwistle's decision to quit as director-general of the BBC after less than two months in the job, and to do so late on a Saturday evening, left the Sunday papers scrambling to amend and update their front pages; those of you with earlier editions will have missed their various BBC/Entwistle splashes.

The updated Independent on Sunday goes with:

"Out of touch, out of his depth, out of a job"

The Sindy's front page standfirst says it all: "Director General George Entwistle is forced out after just 55 days in the post. It follows his humiliation on Radio 4's Today programme over Newsnight's disastrous broadcast on the North Wales child abuse scandal."

The Mail on Sunday goes with:

"Bloodbath at BBC as chief quits"

The new Sunday Times splash reads:

"BBC boss quits over 'shoddy journalism' at Newsnight"

While its News International stablemate, the Sun on Sunday, goes with a rather scathing and personal headline:

"Bye Bye Chump"

(Do you see what they did there?)

Let's be clear: Entwistle didn't go over the Jimmy Saville affair; he resigned over his complete and utter failure to stay across Newsnight's second, equally-disastrous and "shoddy" attempt to make and then air an investigative film on child sex abuse. Incurious George admitted to John Humphreys that he hadn't watched the film on Lord McAlpine because he was "out" and hadn't read the Guardian's devastating takedown of its key claims because he was "giving a speech". It emerged that the editor-in-chief didn't seem to be doing much... what's the word... editing. (On a side note, however, can you imagine any other leading media organisation allowing its boss to be flayed, so publicly and embarrassingly, in the way Entwistle was by Humphreys on Today yesterday morning? No? Neither can I...)

Former Panorama reporter John Ware, while mounting a strong defence of the Beeb ("The Newsnight debacle is an aberration") in the Observer, sums up the case against Entwistle, Newsnight and the corporation's army of in-house lawyers and managers:

"Why did the programme so hastily revive such an explosive allegation against Lord McAlpine from a witness whose evidence on this particular matter had been discounted by a previous lengthy investigation headed by a high court judge, the late Sir Ronald Waterhouse? Why was such faith invested in the evidence of just one witness? Why, especially, if – as the witness is now reported to have suggested – a photograph of Lord McAlpine was not shown to him? And even if it had been, should that not have been the start of the investigation, not the end of it? Why was Lord McAlpine's response not sought, as he has claimed?"

Remember: the decision to air the Newsnight film on McAlpine went up the BBC's editorial and legal chains of command. Heads, I suspect, will therefore continue to roll...

Meanwhile, the Observer notes that Tim Davie, the "new acting editor-in-chief of the corporation following George Entwistle's resignation", has "no career history in journalism" - he is a former BBC marketing man who once worked for Pepsi. Good luck, Tim!

On a side note, the Tory culture secretary Maria Miller has said that Entwistle's resignation was "the right decision". I suppose you could say the former BBC DG's willingness to fall on his sword showed a man with a sense of responsibility, some guts and a bit of integrity - which is more than can be said about Miller's predecessor, Jeremy Hunt, who, after getting too close to the Murdoch media empire, sacrificed his special adviser and clung on for dear life...and was then rewarded with a promotion by David Cameron.

2) PATTEN'S PATTER

The other man in the media firing line this morning is, of course, Chris Patten, the former Tory Party chairman who's now chair of the BBC Trust. Patten, of course, appointed Entwistle as DG and backed him in the wake of the Saville affair.

"Now Patten in the spotlight after his man crashes out," says John Plunkett in the Observer. "Chris Patten should follow his DG," declares the Sunday Times leader.

On the Andrew Marr show this morning, the BBC chair turned up to tell viewers that a "thorough, radical, structural overhaul" of the BBC was necessary in the wake of the DG's resignation. Lord Patten told Marr that he didn't try to persuade Entwistle to stay - and said a new director-general would be chosen within weeks.

Will the BBC turn to an outsider to take the job of director-general, asked Marr? "That may be one of the outcomes," acknowledged Patten, after a slight pause. You may remember that the leading non-BBC candidate for DG in the run-up to Entwistle's appointment was Ed Richards, the chief executive of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom. How appropriate.

Asked if his own position as chairman was now threatened, Patten didn't pull any punches. "It's bound to be under question from Rupert Murdoch's newspapers," he replied. "Let's be clear about that."

Patten didn't play down the seriousness of the current crisis for the corporation: "If the BBC loses [its trust], it is over."

3) LEVESON'S SHADOW

Also speaking on Andrew Marr's show this morning, former Telegraph and Standard editor Max Hastings pointed out that the shadow of Lord Justice Leveson's inquiry is hanging over the BBC, and said the mindset of most newspaper editors and reporters seemed to be: "Well here is the BBC in this terrible mess after dreaful editorial failures and the newspaper industry is threatened by statutory regulation". That, argued Hastings, is "driving" much of this morning's hostile and outraged newspaper coverage.

Indeed. A case in point is the Sunday Telegraph leader:

"It would be terrible if, in a few years’ time, Britain has a regulatory environment that prevents a free press from investigating and publishing the truth about the abuse of power by our rulers, but allows innocent people to be smeared as paedophiles on social networking sites or, in effect, via the BBC."

Or consider the relevant headline in the Mail on Sunday: "Leveson 'to order press must be ruled by law'". The paper's Simon Walters says "newspapers which refuse to obey rulings by a new press watchdog should face big fines, and this regulator will have to answer to MPs, according to sources close to the inquiry".

Yesterday, the Independent reported that "Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have secretly discussed their approach to the Leveson inquiry on press standards in a move which could put pressure on David Cameron not to water down its recommendations".

But am I the only one who finds the newspapers' coverage of the BBC/Newsnight/Saville/McAlpine affairs all a bit hypocritical and sanctimonious? The same papers who libelled and smeared Chris Jefferies, the landlord and ex-teacher, wrongly implicating him in the murder of architect Joanna Yeates because he looked "weird" and acted strangely, now lecture the BBC on its misidentification of Lord McAlpine (who, it has to be said, was not named in the original Newsnight report). Among the papers who paid Jefferies "substantial" damages were the Mail, the Sun and the Mirror - papers that have lined up to slam the Beeb, its bosses and its journalism in recent days. The words pot, kettle and black come to mind.

4) THE CIA DIRECTOR, THE MISTRESS AND THE GMAIL ACCOUNT

While the UK media obsesses over the Entwistle resignation, across the pond, our cousins in the US press are trying to understand why it is that the celebrated US general David Petraeus quit as director of the CIA on Friday - could it really have been a run-of-the-mill affair? Not quite, says the Washington Post:

"The beginning of the end came for CIA Director David Petraeus when Paula Broadwell, a younger married woman with whom he was having an affair, “or someone close to her had sought access to his email,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s description of an FBI probe. Associates of Petraeus had received “anonymous harassing emails” that were then traced to Broadwell, ABC’s Martha Raddatz reported, suggesting she may have found their names or addresses in his e-mail.

The e-mail account was apparently Petraeus’s personal Gmail, not his official CIA e-mail, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s a big deal: Some of the most powerful foreign spy agencies in the world would love to have an opening, however small, into the personal e-mail account of the man who runs the United States’ spy service. The information could have proved of enormous value to foreign hackers, who already maintain a near-constant effort to access sensitive U.S. data.

If Petraeus allowed his Gmail security to be compromised even slightly, by widening access, sharing passwords or logging in from multiple addresses, it would have brought foreign spy agencies that much closer to a treasure trove of information."

Broadwell, incidentally, spent several months at Petraeus' side gathering information for her biography of him. I guess this brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "embedded journalist"...

Oh, and if you want all the gory (X-rated?) details of this sordid story, check out the Sun on Sunday's report: "Sex under the desk? CIA cheat's racy email."

Yuck.

5) I'M NOT A CELEBRITY, PART 44

The papers continue to be fascinated by (obsessed with?) Conservative MP Nadine Dorries' decision to appear on ITV1 reality show 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here'. The Sunday Mirror splashes on: "Tory Nadine's Insult To War Heroes". The paper reports that the member for Mid-Bedfordshire will be missing a Remembrance Day wreath-laying service in her constituency later today because of her decision to fly to the jungle "to earn 40k without even telling the 'appalled' organisers".

Dorries has a piece on the ConservativeHome website, which she submitted to the site a week ago "under embargo". "I'm in the jungle for one reason," she writes, "a golden opportunity to communicate with sixteen million people."

The Mail on Sunday reports:

Under-fire MP Nadine Dorries was straight in at the deep end yesterday as she began her controversial stint in I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here!

Tory Ms Dorries, 55, was in a canoe paddling towards the jungle camp when the craft took a lurch to the right, dumping her and her companions in the river.

She was left up the creek without a paddle - perhaps reflecting the state of her political career after she failed to tell her party she was appearing on the TV reality show."

And so it goes on. And on.

(Oh, and if you can bear it, the Observer has an Andrew Gimson profile of Dorries here.)

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a baby panda bear kissing her mother. All together now: AWWWWW!

6) REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

From the BBC:

"The Queen and members of parliament will pay their respects to the UK's war dead on Remembrance Sunday.

They will be joined at the Cenotaph in London by religious leaders and war veterans for a wreath-laying ceremony.

... British forces across the world, including 9,500 soldiers on duty in Afghanistan, will also pause to remember the fallen.

The Queen will be joined at the Cenotaph by Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, and other members of the Royal Family."

7) THIS TIME, THE CHADS DIDN'T HANG...

It may have taken 4 whole days but the Sunshine State got there in the end and guess what? As expected, Barack Obama has officially won Florida too, taking him to 332 electoral college votes in total - compared to Mitt Romney's 206. Al Gore will be SOOOO pleased.

Meanwhile, Paul Harris writes, in a fascinating feature in the Observer: "[F]ar from exiling Obama outside the US mainstream, many experts, now including leading conservative figures, believe the Republican party itself is being pushed into the political wilderness. The Republicans increasingly look like the party of angry, older white people... And that does not work in America any more."

8) ALL CHANGE IN CHINA

We've all been so obsessed with the US presidential election in recent days that few British journalists have had a chance to turn their attention to the other big world 'election' this month - the once-in-a-decade change of leadership in the Chinese Communist Party. Here's the Sunday Times' Michael Sheridan with what looks like some good news:

"Cautious reformers in China appear to be winning the fight to dominate the country's new leadership in the final stages of a power struggle that will have an impact around the world.

After a year of murder, mystery and strife, hardliners are expected to lose out in the battle for key positions as the Communist party's 18th congress reaches its climax this week.

... The reformers received a boost this weekend when the state media published remarks by Wen Jiabao, the retiring premier, who pledged to work for the rule of law and reform of the leadership system.

The handover of power takes place as China confronts tough economic decisions. It also faces a re-elected President Barack Obama, who has taken a hard line with Beijing on trade and security."

Sheridan adds:

"The rituals of the 18th congress are like a living museum for students of the theory and practice of 20th-century Marxist-Leninism."

9) A CUT TOO FAR?

According to the Observer:

"Home secretary Theresa May is facing a growing coalition revolt about the government's controversial target to slash net immigration, amid growing business anger about the impact of the policy on economic growth.

The promise to cut net immigration to "tens of thousands" was a key plank of the Tories' election platform, but a cross-party alliance of business secretary Vince Cable and universities minister David Willetts is urging David Cameron to force May to water down the pledge."

However, speaking on the Andrew Marr show this morning, the home secretary reaffirmed the coalition's pledge to cut annual net migration to less than 100,000 while acknowledging that there were no more “transitional controls” that could be introduced against Romanian and Bulgarian citizens from 2014 onwards.

Of course, it's worth remembering that the government's own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has suggested that softening the immigration cap would help bolster economic growth. Perhaps Cable and Willetts might want to invite the chancellor of the exchequer to join their "cross-party alliance".

10) AUSTERITY? WHAT AUSTERITY?

Rank hypocrisy, anyone? From the Sun on Sunday:

"David Cameron’s group of Euro MPs will enjoy a five-star taxpayer-funded trip to London this week — just days after he demanded cuts in the Brussels budget.

They will stay in a hotel where suites can cost almost £1,500 a night.

Other top perks for the delegation of European Conservatives and Reformists will be dinner at the Tower of London, lunch in the Commons, a VIP tour of Downing Street and a reception aboard historic warship HMS Belfast.

The cost of the four-day trip — expected to run into tens of thousands of pounds — will be met from the same European public purse the PM is trying to curb."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@stephenfry Inevitable George Entwistle would fall on his sword. Damned for stopping a Newsnight, damned for allowing one. A kind, wise man. Heigh ho.

‏@michaelsavage The BBC has more senior managers than the Chinese communist party, Lord Patten (half) jokes... #Marr

@RowennaDavis An unspoken worry about the BBC furore is that people may be less inclined to report child abuse. It may seem like too much drama/judgement.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Barack Obama’s victory may have been welcome news for the PM, but it was also a stark reminder that his party must broaden its appeal."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "The ambushing of the PM on television put him in a position where there was no right answer. Even so, he emerged with some credit."

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "The fact that something is disgraceful does not mean it shouldn’t be allowed. You may think that is no more than a basic definition of what it is to live in a free society but an increasing number of politicians in this country are taking a different view."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol