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Tuesday, October 28, 2008 

An utter farce.

Is there really so little going on in the world right now that what Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross said to an actor over the phone on a radio show is not just the day's top story, but the top political story of the day as well? To suggest that this phony, invented scandal, just as invented as the Sun's attempts to smear Katy Perry because she dared to pose three years ago in the company of a knife has been spectacularly blown out of all proportion is an incredible understatement. It tells us absolutely nothing whatsoever about the current state of Britain or increasing concern at the tone of public discourse - it instead only highlights the media's obsessions, both with itself and with fighting each other as circulations fall and audiences plummet.

Alastair Campbell was wrong about many, many things, but he was completely right when he said that the media loves talking about itself. To be fair, bloggers are among the very worst for doing just that, but the point still stands. This was not about concern for Andrew Sachs being humiliated by two overgrown teenage boys, but rather almost certainly out of a desire to get at the BBC for daring to employ them. Here it must be stated that both in my estimation are colossal wastes of money, although Jonathan Ross, as his documentaries in the past and his more recent BBC 4 ones have shown does have insights, especially into more neglected film genres, but the BBC is perfectly within its rights to employ them - regardless of what those now at the forefront of the malestrom are saying about them, they certainly do have their admirers, otherwise Ross's chat show would not be so popular, and Brand's autobiography would have not been the hit of the last year. Yes, Ross's £6 million contract over three years is obscene and worthy of complaints, but this is a highly roundabout way of expressing discontent over that.

All you really need to know is that prior to the Mail on Sunday getting involved, just 2 complaints had been made about the 18th of October show on which Brand and Ross phoned Sachs voicemail and left the insulting and offensive messages, and those were about Ross swearing, not what he was swearing about. Considering that around 400,000 are meant to listen to it, this suggests that the majority tune in knowing full well what they'll be getting from Brand. That there is any need for a timeline of what happened when in this tedious "scandal" is perhaps an indictment of the entire thing, but it wasn't until the Wednesday that Sachs himself apparently even knew that any messages had been left, after being contacted by the MoS. With it then being brought to the attention of the BBC, Brand apologised on the following week's show, but without any humility in his usual fashion. The MoS prints the story, and before you know it, David Cameron and Gordon Brown are sticking their noses in for God knows what reason.

If the Mail had any real care for not further embarrassing Sachs about his granddaughter, then its articles featuring Georgina Baillie in various states of undress whilst revealing her role in the "Satanic Sluts" would not currently be featured pride of place on their site. The Mail hasn't at least created the montage which adorns one of the Sun's articles, featuring Baillie topless with Brand and Sachs included alongside. The Sun however at least isn't calling for either to be sacked, as the Mail is. It's difficult to believe in any case that he wasn't aware of her vocation, although obviously Brand's humiliating remarks were completely out of order. Again though, it's still difficult to have any sympathy for her; it certainly hasn't been denied that she has indeed had a relationship with Brand, and his behaviour towards women is notorious. In his book, for example, he relates how he had sex with a girl at school, who asks him not to mention it to her friends or anyone else, to which he promptly does, then wonders why she's upset. As has been used in different contexts over the past week, if you sleep with dogs you shouldn't complain when you get fleas.

Even more hilariously hypocritical of the Mail, apart from the fact that it is by proxy defending the dignity of a "satanic slut", is that when the Celebrity Big Brother racism row ballooned last year, the paper ran a front page ridiculing the fact it was the story of the day. This time round it's leading the outrage, despite the fact that there was and are far more notable news stories around both today and yesterday, in profound difference to then. All this is leading towards the idea that there are things that the BBC should do and should not do - and promoting new comedy talent such as Russell Brand is apparently one of the things it should not do, if the Mail got its way. It doesn't matter that there are far more worthy things that could be chopped from the BBC, such as much of the crap produced by BBC Three, which could be directed into nuturing real new comic talent such as those behind and involved with Peep Show (which the "moralists" on the Mail would loathe) or even not turning up the opportunity to develop the likes of Chris Morris's jihadi comedy, it's more that the BBC is even thinking of doing these things. It also doesn't seem to matter that this was broadcast after the watershed - even if it was on radio - and so the "offensiveness" of the material should not really breach any guidelines, let alone Ofcom's.

Once the involvement of politicians on a matter such as this would have been limited to the realms of satire. It's not quite apposite to bring in the 2001 BrassEye paedophile special and the hysteria which followed that, as clearly that was a case of Morris seeking controversy, achieving it, and skewering the media all at the same time. That though was followed by politicians involving themselves when none of them had watched it, with David Blunkett who certainly hadn't seen it even joining in. David Cameron and Gordon Brown certainly wouldn't have been listening, and Cameron's demands for full transparency just when his own shadow chancellor has refused to provide just that is laughable.

Eric the Fish is right when he says that this has done a disservice to those of us who do think that the BBC, despite its flaws, is great value, and that it has also done a disservice to itself. There should be questioning over who thought that this particular unpleasantness was acceptable, as it was recorded and reviewed before broadcast, but there should not be a witch-hunt, and apologies all round, perhaps more profuse than those already offered, should be enough. One additional thing this highlights though is the increasing power of the Mail, and the BBC's terror of being targeted by it. It has helped to develop this partly itself by regarding whatever is on its front page automatically as news. Most of all, the BBC needs to defend itself better when it comes in for unfair criticism, instead of taking the beating given it. Last week the Mail and Sun were outraged that the BBC devoted more time to the George Osborne story than to the competing Peter Mandelson debacle, but that was a sound decision based on the fact that far more was known about Osborne's transgressions, and that it involved donations in this country rather than what Mandelson might have done whilst EU trade commissioner. The more the BBC slinks back, the more blows it will take, even whilst it is far more accountable than any tabloid or almost any newspaper. How ironic it would be if newspapers and their proprietors that have done more than anyone else to both lower the tone in this country and to debase politics are those that bring down one of the few remaining bastions of quality and high-brow programming we have, and how they will celebrate it.

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Well said. If you thought yesterday's Mail was bad, todays's Sun will be worse: they've got an interview with the granddaughter. This story's going to keep on rolling.

The Sun honourably provides Georgina with a platform to express her anger about the incident, even providing us with a video.

Further down the page is 'Do you know Georgina? If so call the newsdesk on...'

Wonder if they told her they were going on a fishing trip?

A lot of the 'defences' of the BBC and RussRoss strike me as somewhat naive. YES this is the Daily Mail being a bunch of pricks YES there are more important stories that could be being discussed.

However...

This is not directly about offending an old man and being 'ungentlemanly' to his performance artiste grand-daughter.

Instead it's a perfect storm of a number of sources of generalised unhappiness.

a) The fact that public discourse is becoming increasingly course and vulgar.

b) The fact that traditional values such as respect for one's elders and gallantry towards women are falling by the way-side.

These two account for the Daily Mail.

c) The BBC is lavishly funded by the tax-payer at a time when less and less people are watching TV and what money they have they seem to spend on empty-headed rubbish that could just as easily appear on an advert-supported channel.

This accounts for the Murdoch-press's involvement in the story.

But then you have other issues...

d) At a time of economic hardship, the rich and successful should keep their heads down, Brand and Ross have done the exact opposite by essentially bullying some people with far less power and money than them.

I suspect this is why a lot of leftists have been sucked into the debate and it is why I suspect that the two presenters have been suspended. If the right-wing press go after you, it gives you cachet... when the left wing AND the right wing press go after you you're a PR liability.

e) Brand and Ross are populist entertainers. Their bread and butter is stuff that most intelligent people simply never watch... Big Brother? Ross's talk-show? there are people not only putting out shit but highly funded shit that is diverting money from stuff that intelligent people might be interested in watching.

Agreed about Ross' docus but they are increasingly few and far between. His bread and butter is presenting populist telly... he's Justin Lee Collins with a well-tailored suit.


All of these factors combine to make this a huge media shit-storm. I don't watch TV anymore and so they could be sacked or put on 24 hours a day and it would not impact my life but part of me thinks that these two clearly need taking down a peg or two and while we can't order sack-cloth and ashes for City Bankers, we can make the BBC pull them off of TV.

In short, they're scape-goats and the fact that they're over-paid and under-talented gives them a remarkably wide appeal as such.

"Brand and Ross have done the exact opposite by essentially bullying some people with far less power and money than them."

See, this is where your analysis goes from 'vaguely sane' to 'totally fuckwitted'. If you think this is bullying, you're a moron; and if you think the levels of money/power of a very successful, upper-middle-class family are significantly lower than Brand/Ross's, then you're doubly a moron.

I thought you were talking to me there for a second, John. Not to come over holier than thou, but not the most diplomatic way of putting that, although I do generally agree with you, and John M's first two reasons are absurd. The Mail doesn't real care about the coarsening of discourse, and that has nothing to do with this; if it did Paul Dacre wouldn't be notorious for his "double cuntings" for a start.

Soz for implying that: your piece holds IMO.

And John M's first two reasons are right-ish I think - not that these things are true, but that they're two propositions firmly held to be true by DM readers.

Given that one of the problems we have is that politicos are in a political silo, it could be argued that getting involved in "outside" questions is valuable of itself.

Imo this is one that deserves coverage for at least 2 reasons:

1 - Highlighting the need to treat people with common decency. R and B did not. I think they (and whoever made the editorial) would deserve to be sanctioned even if the thing hadn't been broadcast and had been done to a BBC colleague as a joke - the worst thing they did was thinking that this kind of behaviour is OK.

2 - Highlighting the way the media can work sometimes.

Matt

I think they (and whoever made the editorial) would deserve to be sanctioned even if the thing hadn't been broadcast and had been done to a BBC colleague as a joke - the worst thing they did was thinking that this kind of behaviour is OK.

In what kind of demented puritan world is 'winding up your colleagues as a joke' not OK?

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