James Naughtie was on fully biased form this morning. For listeners on the Today website (i.e. those who didn't listen live) he began straight away with a slightly rude interview with Tim Montgomerie of Conservative Home, only diluted by Tim's infectious good humour. The first interruption came within 12 seconds, and was followed a "Good!" when Mr Montgomerie conceded Naughtie's point. A sharp intake of breath at 0.35 (at Tim's mention of 'the scale of the deficit') led to a typically long-winded question that cast the Conservative's actions in as unfavourable light as possible, including the bilious reference to "a kind of vague little commitment". Another interruption followed at 1.30, stopping Tim Montgomerie's flow, and in his answer there were lots of those odd little noises that always seem to occur whenever Naughtie is listening to someone he doesn't agree with. (You should hear him ping, rustle and sigh when he interviews UKIP politicians!!)
In contrast Naughtie's big interview with Hilary Benn was as soft as a mouldy (organically-grown) cucumber, more a chat than a challenging interview. Here the good humour flowed from James Naughtie, beginning with a friendly joke about revolutionary politics ("just like old times"). When Naughtie interviews a Conservative he forcefully interrupts, rarely pulling out of an interruption to let the speaker finish his point. Not so here. The resultant I.C. was a lowly 0.4. *
The worst - much, much worse - is yet to come!!
You can easilly hear both of these interviews on the Today programme website (which ensures archiving).
Not so the pre-7.00 Naughtie interview with Benn's Conservative counterpart Nick Herbert. You will only be able to hear this for the next 7 days & will need to go to Radio 4's Listen Again page and download the full 3-hour version of the programme and then scroll forward to 51.50!! Most people who didn't listen live will do no such thing. They are missing a very rude interview indeed. Catch it here while you can and compare it with the Hilary Benn interview. If anyone still needs proof that James Naughtie is a very biased BBC interviewer, this is it!!
Here the I.C. scored was 1.3 - over three times higher. The interview was also substantially shorter (3 minutes 12 seconds, as compared to 5 minutes 26 seconds for Benn).
There was nothing friendly about this interview. Naughtie was frosty with Mr Herbert throughout. There were no friendly jokes to begin with and none of Naughtie's interruptions here failed to be carried through to their very bitter end.
Here's how things worked out, with Naughtie's words recorded for posterity:
51.55 Q1 (asked curtly): "How would it work?"
51.54 Q2: "Yes (drawled skeptically) but the British Retailers' Consortium says that this would be extra bureaucracy and the price would need to be borne by consumers and nobody wants there to be additional costs, it's a waste of time."
53.19 Interruption 1 (a flat contradiction of what Mr Herbert is saying)/Q3 (brusquely): "No, supermarkets just buy cheap food from abroad. Now you may not like that but how do you stop them?"
53.24 A3 (note that it takes Nick Herbert a few seconds to recover. Result for Naughtie!)
53.36 Interruption 2/Q4 (no less brusquely): "No, agreed, but how would you enforce it". This forces Mr Herbert to a halt. (Another result for Naughtie!) "One of the statistics we were just looking at this morning was that most apples in this country that are sold in supermarkets are imported. Bonkers! We grow marvellous apples, plenty of producers. How would you change that situation?"
53.55 Interruption 3 (after 2 seconds!!!!!)/Q5: "Yes, but what would you do about it?"
54.02 Interruption 4 (after 6 seconds!!!)/'Q'6 (loudly disagreeing with Mr Herbert): "That's not going to change it. The supermarkets will still import it and price it lower!"
54.06 A6 (at last, Nick Herbert is allowed to speak again, though with a lot of those odd noises mentioned above!!)
55.02 Interview ends. (Naughtie is clearly going to interrupt yet again, but is thwarted because Mr Herbert just finished his point in time!) "Nick Herbert, thanks." Just listen though to the way Naughtie says 'thanks' - it couldn't be any frostier! (The temperature outside my door is much warmer than that perfunctory 'thanks'!!
Did Naughtie think that because this interview (being before 7.00) is not going to be archived that he could be as rude as possible to his Conservative guest and get away with it? Well, he's not going to & a complaint is going off to the BBC - and to Nick Herbert. Nick Herbert himself should, of course, be complaining to the BBC rather than me.