In times of crisis, an organisation’s leaders need to be all over it
At this point, we don’t really know how long lasting will be the effects of the current crisis swamping the BBC. What we have gathered, however, is that George Entwistle, though no doubt a talented and honourable man, is not the person to guide Auntie through this serious set of bloomers.
The BBC is complex, and it’s easy for people to get involved in things that don’t concern them. Newsnight’s original investigation on Savile wasn’t within Entwistle’s remit. But his performance in front of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee showed a huge inability to join the dots. What he should have been concerned with was not whether the Newsnight story would mess up the schedules but, given such information, whether he should have been airing a Savile tribute at all.
The interview on Today was similarly informative. Entwistle said he didn’t know about the fuss about the latest Newsnight mess up because (a) he’d gone out that evening and (b) he was working on a speech. The impression is of a man who was carried along by events, not a man who was out shaping events.
Compare this with what New Jersey governor Chris Christie had to say about Barack Obama’s involvement with Sandy: ‘The president has been all over this.’
You can imagine that if the former director general had been all over his own organisation’s problems then his answers to John Humphrys would have been rather different. He would have left instructions to be informed about issues relating to investigative journalism, particularly at Newsnight with its denuded leadership structure, even if he were out. He would have made different arrangements for preparation of his speech (or would have cancelled it).
Frankly, the crisis management at the Beeb has made Tony Hayward’s handling of the BP spill look masterly. This from the country’s leading communications organisation. So, today, Barack Obama looks forward to a second term and George Entwistle to a life outside the corporation he has served for 23 years.
The BBC is in a fight. It needs a fighter at the helm during these difficult days. Wallflowers needn’t apply.