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George Entwistle’s quietly savage attack on Newsnight editor Peter Rippon

23 October 2012

George Entwistle seemed rather mild-mannered at his first appearance before the Culture, Media and Sport select committee this morning. But after listening to him for two hours, MPs were starting to suggest that the BBC director general was making a quietly savage attack on one of his juniors. It will be astonishing if, after Entwistle’s evidence, Newsnight editor Peter Rippon is not called before the committee.

Entwistle told the committee that he had asked Rippon to ‘step aside because of my disappointment at the inaccuracies in the blog… he hasn’t stepped aside to prepare or the Pollard review, he’s stepped aside because of it’. He also made clear that he was disappointed because he relied on ‘the editor of a programme having a full grip and understanding of the investigation they were in charge of, and in this case it doesn’t seem to have been happening’ and that he ‘absolutely would have expected the editor of a programme to have given a definitive and factually accurate account of what happened on that programme’.

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But his own evidence was disappointing, too. He got off to a particularly shaky start with Philip Davies, who opened the questioning with a ferocious barrage of demands for figures and details of the extent to which Entwistle had made enquiries about the current situation. Davies blasted what he described as Entwistle’s ‘lamentable lack of knowledge about any of the questions that I’ve asked’. Some of his questions were a little unfair: at one point he asked for details of how many complaints of sexual harassment there had been at the BBC each year since the 1960s. But there were other points that one might reasonably expect the director general to have researched over the past few weeks, or at least since he knew he would be making an appearance before this committee.

At some points he tried to justify his lack of knowledge and what Paul Farrelly claimed was ‘an amazing lack of curiosity on the part of a journalist’ as appropriate, arguing it was important in his role that he maintain some distance by not interviewing the Newsnight reporters himself. His defence of the corporation for examining its own practices so thoroughly might have sounded less hollow had ITV not broadcast its own investigation before Panorama had got in on the act.

Entwistle also repeatedly stressed that, as with many sex offenders, Jimmy Savile was able to operate a sophisticated cover for his abuses. But the real question – and one the committee did not labour on – was how Savile was able to continue behaving as he did when there were so many rumours about him circulating at the time. It’s not enough to say that he was operating under a sophisticated cover: the reports of the past few weeks have suggested that numerous staff at the BBC and the hospitals where the abuse is alleged to have taken place were aware or at least suspicious of what was going on. What is more striking in this case was how careless Savile seemed to be, rather than the care he took to cover his activities up.

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  • The White Dragon of England

    I watched the BBC Chairman George Entwistle being interviewed.

    How he got to the top I don’t know, but then I do of course. I’m sure we
    all recognise the worst kind of Manager here. He’s certainly not a leader. He
    said he’d never mix with the ‘shop floor’, because he didn’t want to be thought
    of as interfering. He always consulted his divisional managers to find out what
    was going on.

    I can imagine his meetings. He won’t be ask probing questions, he’ll be
    seeking assurances that all is well. If someone brings something to his
    attention or is seeking guidance, is he not type who will say that he has full
    confidence that the person concerned can handle things without his
    intervention, but ‘let me know if you need any support’. Classic ‘it’s your
    problem’, leaving him able to drop his staff in it at any time to avoid blame
    himself. Avoiding conflict throughout his career, he has always kept his bosses
    happy, said the right thing, gone along with the latest trend.

    Now however he’s at the top, but instead of showing decisive leadership, he
    sets up reviews, classic avoidance technique. He doesn’t want to get his own
    hands dirty.

    I’m trying to hold on to my stomach contents.

    He is shown to be negligent and incompetent. Surely he lost all respect and
    authority. He was heartily laughed at. He must resign now, or be sacked. Did
    Patten appoint him? So, can the odious creep Patten be allowed to stay? They
    all look after each other in their disengaged arrogance.

    The mould must be broken, and by that I mean the BBC must be broken up.

  • Fergus Pickering

    What splendid news all of this is if you are a Tory. Labour’s best mate royally self-shafted. Are we impugning the veracity of the Beeb, Lord Patten. Yup. We are doing just that thing.

    • ButcombeMan

      I do not expect anything too good from Lord Patten on this. He has form for not much activity.

      Do I not recall the Telegraph saying that (over priestly peodophilia) he acted as a “human shield ” in arranging the papal visit.

      I would have thought more of him if he had loudly refused his organisational role and soundly condemned the Catholic Church conspiracy that kept the lid on it all for so long.

  • wrinkledweasel

    “One of the things we’ve learned in the last few years is that it’s much
    better to be honest in your judgement, defend what you feel is
    defensible but be open when you have not got it right” (Helen Boaden, quoted in 2007.)

    There is currently a chasm of doubt between what we know and what we have been told, not the least because most commentators find it incredible that George Entwistle did not respond to Helen Boaden’s warning about the Newsnight programme with so much as a “Oh really, what’s it about?” An “extraordinary lack of curiosity” as one member of the select committee remarked.

    Boaden’s own complicity has now come under the spotlight and indeed the former candidate for Director General has “stepped aside” while the investigation continues.

    The BBC spends hundreds of thousands of licence money (revenue extorted from the public on pain of inprisonment) on keeping its affairs secret. It has done so in the past over salaries of the so-called “talent” and more sinisterly over claims of bias.

    Somehow I do not feel that the BBC and Helen Boaden in particular are being as up front with us as they claim.

  • Eddie

    It’s called passing the buck, saving your own skin and roasting a scapegoat! It is standard behaviour at ANY institution – the BBC, universities, schools, councils, hospitals etc: something goes wrong and, like a pack of wild dogs, the mob selects a victim and rips him apart.
    Entwistle is just a creature who like many others crawled his careerist way up that slimy little BBC ladder – and most who do would have fitted snugly into any communist regime too.
    It was the WHOLE BBC with its lying, arrogance, quasi-state-within-a-state status that caused this whole problem. There are WAY too many managers there – many who are no competent and have been promoted because of positive action anyway – and several layers could be sliced away with no adverse effect on programmes (in fact the reverse).
    The BBC lies; its staff lie; its response to anyone accusing it of doing something wrong is DEFEND AND DENY – always. Just like the health service when some incompetent doctor fafs up an operation.
    Perhaps if the BBC celebrated diversity of OPINION and allowed dissent – and listened to individual staff rather than expecting everyone to conform to its ‘diversity policies’ and ratings-chasing popularism, things would be better. The tragedy is that all this Savile thing means BBC staff will take even fewer risks than they do now – and frankly, the BBC has become so conformist and boring that it is being totally outclassed by others, esp in drama, preferring as it does to make dancing shows (and crappy soaps etc) aimed at the easy meat of a willing female audience.
    What Rippon said was right: all they had were allegations from people who were after all teenagers at the time and – more or less – groupies.
    What concerns me more is that Savile allegedly went and abused girls and boys younger than 15 at care homes and hospitals – and the staff KNEW about it and did not report it!
    I’d like to see arrests and questioning of those staff.

  • John Mackie

    ‘What is more striking in this case was how careless Savile seemed to be,
    rather than the care he took to cover his activities up.’

    Precisely. The meme that he ‘covered his tracks’ is a pack of lies. He was doing this for decades in PLAIN SIGHT.

  • FRank P

    Entwhistle was eviscerated today and so was the BBC: exposed, culpable, not fit for purpose.

    In future, George Entwhistle should be renamed “George. C.Y.A. Ostrich-Entwhistle”.
    He followed the tacit dictates of all superiors to subordinates in dodgy public service organisations: compartmentalisation of blame.
    “If something is amiss fix it or ignore it – but don’t tell me about it”. Which is why arse-lickers get the best jobs.
    He coughed to that today – so now he’s toast.
    But read Melanie’s article, which draws out the lens to pan – and puts this symptomatic carbuncle into the wider context, as part of the underlying leftist counter-culture war of which the BBC has been, for many decades, the propaganda arm:

  • RKing

    Is there any chance that the whole episode is somewhat overstated?
    i.e. Bandwagon let’s jump on it?

    PS. This is not my view I’m merely asking the question.
    I have absolutely no idea, yea or neigh, but it does seem quite remarkable that one man could get away with so much.

    • Vulture

      I think, to the contrary that its being UNDERstated. One man got away with so much because it wasn;t just one man. Savile was merely the most prominent of many paedos at the Beeb who were covered up for by those in the know.
      Cameron should sack Patten and Entwistle instantly, bring in an emergency board and hold a judicial inquiry into the whole rotten dungheap. But of course he won’t because he appointed his mate Chris.

      • Baron

        Vulture, you right on that Cameron won’t do anything, but Baron reckons the reason’s different. The BBC feared to drop Sir Jimmy because he would have taken a number of them with him, here many of the governing elite fear they may get hit if heads were to roll at the BBC. The annual five billion quid buys alot of influence, many former BBC people are now in influential positions outside the Corporation in the MSM, civil service and elsewhere, and vice versa.

        as baron said before, only a public enquiry chaired by a senior judge…

        • Frank P

          From what I observed of Judges in my long interface with them, it would necessary to research the proclivities of your suggested appointee thoroughly; they are not immune from the inappropriate urges of the flesh, I assure you.

          • Baron

            you do it then, Frank, Baron trusts you, will back you, and so will many many others.

    • Andy

      Well which is worse – hacking a few clebes phones or child abuse ?

      If this was News International we were talking about would you be taking the same tack ?

      No I didn’t think so either.

      • Baron

        Andy, quite, the hypocrisy pains, if Endwhistle were a commercial man, successful, not one of the statists sucking on the public teat, he would have been whistled out already.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    The BBC will shove anyone under the bus to preserve its institutional self, like a lizard shedding its tail. They can easily get another DG, if it comes to that pass, but what is interesting is that they are being asked to put up someone with deniability rather than someone actually culpable. Now, hands up all those who believe that the “independent inquiries” will meet the dictionary definition of either word.

    • Baron

      Rhoda, you right again, Baron sees no hands up, he also believes that the probability’s higher the pervert will rise from the dead, resume the abuse his death put a stop to than the range of the ccurrent enquiries will get to the truth of the cover-up.

  • L’Arse

    Apologies for the cut’n’paste job, but sometimes an alternative view should more widely read.

    From Normblog:
    In there amidst the dismay and shock at what Jimmy Savile appears to have got away with for so long are to be found the usual calmingly apologetic tropes. Here’s Mark Damazer:Nobody at the top now was in any position of authority when [Savile] was chomping his cigars and Fixing It for the nation, but the public will give the BBC (and maybe the NHS) low marks for not having found a way to confront him at the time.Why ‘but’? Are we supposed to think that because different personnel now occupy positions of authority, the corporate responsibility is somehow lessened should it turn out to be true that Savile, and possibly others, sexually abused children on BBC premises? That’s a variant of the claim that there can be no meaningful apology in cases where those giving the apology are not themselves personally at fault. There can be; organizations are also answerable for what they do, for what they allow or what they turn a blind eye to. If you read the rest of Damazer’s column, you will see that everyone now concerned at the Beeb is basically a jolly good person – as if the primary issue were how the BBC has been dealing with the Savile case just lately, rather than how it failed to deal with it when it should have.Then there’s this from a Guardian leader:The failure of health services and the broadcasters to protect the people in their charge was lamentable. But these failures should not be used as an excuse to bash the BBC or the NHS. Plenty of others lauded Savile in his lifetime before loathing him as soon as the alleged truth came out.The key words in this case are ‘excuse’ and ‘bash’. What if we say, instead, ‘reason’ and ‘criticize’? If bashing the BBC just means dishing out general hostility, then indeed no one should be bashing it. On the other hand, if the BBC did fail to protect children in its charge from the sexual attentions of celebrity broadcasters, that is a public disgrace, for which the Corporation is responsible and should have to answer in one way or another. Nor is the argument that ‘plenty of others’ were complicitly looking on or looking away the least bit impressive. Those who did so deserve no admiration, to be sure. But plenty of others, too, were not complicit and not part of any culture according to which it is OK to sexually molest children. This ‘different-culture-back-then’ theme is hogwash. Not that there wasn’t a different culture in many respects and so far as male attitudes to women were concerned, and the unpleasant forms of conduct that went with that. Yet with large numbers of people, it was not the case, even back then in the dark old days, that they – we – would have complacently shrugged off information that Savile or others like him might be abusing young people, whether at the BBC or in hospitals and other institutions that were supposedly in loco parentis. Hell, as long ago as 1965 there were people who would have condemned the sexual exploitation of children.We should avoid oversimplifying; but we should also not wantonly malign our own past. It is not generally the case that everyone is to blame for everything, and neither is it the case in this particular case. If this was the ‘culture at the BBC’, it certainly wasn’t the whole culture of the country.

    • Andy

      Hmmmmmm but isn’t it actually worse than that ? You have to remember that Savile was merely a DJ on Radio 1, and then a presenter on Top of the Pops. After this the BBC specifically created a number of programmes which brought him into contact with children – they were specifically designed for children. This was done with the agreement of a number of people who must have known of the allegations against Savile, and maybe knew the truth of them, or had heard the gossip for as was remarked above Savile was hardly discrete. Not to put too finer point on it they helped him by sending children his way. I think this scandal has way to run yet.

    • HooksLaw

      You would make your cut and past easier to read by editing in a bit of white space.

      People lauded Savile in his lifetime because they did not know of what seems to have been his secret life. So that really has nothing to do with criticising now the truth is out
      I never liked Savile and could never understand the public lauding of this strange man. I had head of rumours of ‘goings on’ – they were available in the press – but always thought it was consenting adult affairs. It is shocking if people knew of under-age activity.

      There then comes the issue of did people know. Its bad enough if people knew or suspected but were simply afraid to whistle-blow. Its a bigger step up if people did nothing out of self interest.

      It is unfortunate in the circumstances, but still satisfying to see the self righteous BBC’s hypocrisy exposed.

      • L’Arse

        Taken your idea of white spaces on board, HooksLaw – I’ll try and do better next time (although I don’t like loading up threads with other people’s opinions. Just once in a while).

        For what it’s worth, I was a teenager in the Seventies and quite a few girls I knew (mostly underage at the time) had affairs with rock/pop stars, including Mr Gadd, though not the frankly hideous Savile.

        The Beeb has certainly got questions to answer… maybe we all have.

  • Vulture

    I have had two spells working for the BBC and on both occasions I concluded that their managers were a bunch of cowardly curs whose chief concern was to keep their noses clean. And to arselick those a notch above them in the BBC food chain. I have never been in a news organisation more larded with self-congratulatory noises about ‘integrity’ and ‘journalistic standards’.
    George is a BBC type from the top of his bald bonce to his toecaps, and dropping his minion Rippon in it is par for the Corporation course. What a disgusting creep.

    • Adrian Drummond

      Likewise spent ten years working for them and whilst many journalists and technicians were extremely talented, the same could not be said for their overpaid and under talented managers. Never have I met such a bunch of self-righteous, arrogant and over promoted nitwits. I shudder just thinking at how awful they are/were.

      • Eddie

        Agreed. I have experience with the drama side of the BBC and can say that a great many producers and managers are the most uncreative twerps I have ever met – who treat those who write drama like dirt too.
        They often steal ideas from scripts unwitting members of the public send in too – it;s called plagiarism, or a word I prefer: theft.
        But they know – with their staff, lawyers, power, money and £4 billion a year – that no little person can possibly take them on. Such is the BBC droit de signeur to screw one over…

    • Knives_and_Faux

      It has to be said that any large sprawling private corporation suffers from the same awful management types as the BBC. Common purpose goons with their MBA’s.

  • alexsandr

    has anyone looked at savilles tax status? was he on PAYE from the BBC or was he another one of these using a company?

  • alexsandr

    this brings into question whether the BBC should continue to exist or whether it should be broken up. I’d move some it it to the commercial sector, and make sure news and current affairs is separated from the mainstream organisation.

  • Tron

    Why was Entwistle not asked if he had heard any rumours about Savile? If the answer was no, was he the only man working in the media for the last 30 years who did not know?
    Also when he was told Newsnight were investigating Savile, what did he think were the possible reasons.

    • Daniel Maris

      Call it Tron’s Law if you like – but…

      “In any expensive official inquiry the most bleedin’ly obvious question is never asked.”

  • wrinkledweasel

    If a major commercial corporation had been revealed to be a hot bed of perversion, alcoholism, drug-taking and extortion to the extent that the BBC has, it would have suffered a major meltdown and probably have been closed and the directors prevented from ever holding directorships again.

    Entwistle is “disappointed”. It’s a clear illustration of his mindset because it shows how insulated he is from reality. It is shocking because he is BBC through and through and certainly experienced enough to hear warning bells, in this instance, that two quite contradictory programmes about Jimmy Savile could cause a great deal of embarrassment for the BBC, or that pulling a programme of such importance as the Newsnight piece would create controversy. Entwistle is not up to the job. The rules are that DGs do not interfere with editorial freedom, but he took this to mean a total derogation of responsibility.

  • james102

    We still need to consider this within the framework of fashionable opinion at the time. The BBC is a creature of fashion and lowering the age of consent was a fashionable cause supported by Liberty and Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt.
    The BBC has always employed people with minority sexual preferences so would have been more ‘tolerant’ of Saville’s behaviour than the majority of licence fee payers.

    • HFC

      Absolutely correct, James.

      In any other sphere, the fact that Savile was so creepy and odd would have led to his being fully investigated but as you say the BBC has always employed odd people who would see the ‘benefits’ of his misfit ‘diversity’ and simply shrug their shoulders.
      And on today’s showing, the DG is toast.

      • Baron

        james102, HFC, these kids were not only under age, they were troubled, the sort that needs help, lot of help rather than a shag; you’re trying to excuse something that one would associate with regimes run by monsters like the pot marked Georgian.

        you work for the evil Empire then?

        • HFC

          No, Baron, no excuses for what is alleged to have occurred; quite the opposite.

    • realfish

      That fashionable opinion manifested itself in the BBC giving airtime to some who thought that sex with under-age children was good for their development. Their coverage was uncritical, the BBC offered these people a sense of respectability.

      • Frank P


  • Chris lancashire

    I bet News International are enjoying this.

    • Fergus Pickering

      I’m sure they are. And why not?

      • Mirtha Tidville

        And some of us are just loving every delicious moment

        • Chris lancashire

          Well I was too Mirtha until I watched all those brave, clever MPs (most of whom couldn’t run a bath) pummelling a defenceless Entwistle. We really don’t deserve to be represented by these pratts.

  • Andy

    Sorry, but I simply do not believe him. Had someone come up to me and said ‘Newsnight are investigating Jimmy Savile, so it might effect your Christmas schedule’ I would not merely have said ‘Thank you very much for telling me’. The natural human thing to do would be to say ‘Investigating ? About what ??’ His bad dress sense perhaps ? Or how many cigars he smoked in a day ? Do me a favour. I suspect he didn’t ask the natural questions, not because he didn’t want to interfere with Newsnights editorial decisions, which such a question would not do, but because he already knew the answer. It is either that or he is a complete idiot.

    I agree with you that Savile was not exactly ‘discrete’ in his activities. The BBC knew about him 40+ years ago. The fact remains that they created a series of programmes for him, and thus created this ‘personality’ which facilitated his disgusting activities. Far from gradually distancing themselves from Savile they in the end created this monster and cannot now be absolved from their guilt in so doing.

    • L’Arse

      Have to agree, Andy. After watching Panorama last night, it seemed that Entwistle was more concerned with keeping the Christmas schedules intact rather than pursuing the legitimate concerns of the Newsnight producer and journalist. That’s Entertainment…

    • Frank P

      He was indeed very ‘discrete’ in his activities, Andy, seems he put it about all over the place and not very discreetly either (which is what I think you were trying to say.

      • Andy

        Indeed, I sit corrected.

        It all seems to have been the stuff of BBC gossip. The current BBC line – ‘We know nothing’ – wont last very long. Truth will out.

    • Baron

      Andy, you so right, Baron has just spoken to the rats inhabiting the BBC abode, to a rat they all said ‘everyone new from the cleaners to the top’.

      They must have known, this was a scoop of the century, imagine, one of their top. if not the top BBC star, getting exposed as country’s grand peado of all times. If he truly didn’t know what what is the position of the top TV man at what, half a million pa plus plush pension, all about?

      • Andy

        I agree Baron. I simply do not accept what he said. He was, at the time, head of BBC Vision, not the DG. He has worked at the BBC since 1989 – he was an assistant producer on Panorama from 1990 to 1992. We are talking about a man who is ‘plugged in’ to the BBC network. Gossip like ‘Savile is a pedo’ would be pretty common currency. As the Select Committee made clear his responses where, at times, just astonishing.

    • ButcombeMan

      Not only do I not believe him, I would say he is an absolutely incompetent manager. Ridiculous for him to try to stay.

      Any half decent manager has a management system that informs him of upcoming politically (where that applies) and commercially sensitive issues, on at least a weeekly basis.. Typically it would nowadays, be in an e-mail once a week report, from operational divisions.

      This is basic management.

      His excuses for not enquiring are less than paper thin.

      He is finished, utterly finished.

      The gun is on the table in the library.

  • HooksLaw

    ‘some of his questions were unfair’ ie we get the usual showboating.

    What the Savile affair shows is the danger that lies in ‘consensus’ as opposed to objective assessment.
    The BBC blindly follows an alleged consensus on man made global warming. In everything it follows its own systemic left wing consensus.

    • Plato

      Mr HLaw – are you on Twitter? I assume you are in outer darkness elsewhere.

      • HooksLaw

        Why hello.
        Mr S does not seem to like being criticised. Its his blog, and not a bad one at that, and his responsibility for the people he does in fact give air time to.

        We all know what too many tweets make.

        • Plato

          Well nice to know you’re still about – no doubt I’ll trip across you again :^)

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