Andrew Marr was “being polite” to Conservative minister Penny Mordaunt because he is an “actual human”, the editor of the BBC’s flagship politics programme has said after an unguarded on-air thumbs-up prompted a rash of online conspiracy theories.
Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, was appearing on the Sunday morning programme to discuss the sexual misconduct allegations against Oxfam workers.
As the interview turned to Brexit at its conclusion, the Cabinet minister insisted she was still “chipper” about the process.
As he handed over to Nick Campbell for a preview of the next show, Marr appeared to give Mordaunt a thumbs-up and tell her “that was very good”.
The gaffe was picked up by many watching on Twitter.
What looked to be an unfortunate error was swiftly ramped up to something more conspiratorial.
Some suggested it showed senior BBC journalists were being soft with the Conservative government over Brexit.
The ‘alt-left’ blog The Skwawkbox, which has made repeated claims of BBC bias, was at the vanguard of the criticism.
Journalists who don’t work for the BBC made clear Marr was engaging in fairly standard practice.
As did existing and former senior BBC broadcasters.
But it was the Editor of The Andrew Marr Show, Rob Burley, who went to greatest effort to explain - throughout Sunday - what had happened.
He argues that licence fee payers are “absolutely entitled to express opinions, express a view, question or criticise”, but that he won’t ignore a mis-characterisation.
This appeared to be the case on Sunday as Burley tweeted repeatedly about how Marr was acting “suspiciously like a human being”.
At one stage, he wrote:
“I hate to spoil what you see as the final, clinching evidence of a high level conspiracy, but he was just being nice like an actual human as he is to everyone he interviews, regardless of party.
“It’s the truth - though less exciting than your own version, I grant you.”