While America has been mesmerized, first by the presidential elections then by the astounding scandals emerging from seemingly nowhere, the British elite has been undergoing its own crisis. The center of the storm is the BBC.
The opening act of the ongoing meltdown was the discovery that one of its “national treasures” — a DJ named Jimmy Savile — had been a vicious pedophile for decades and that he had been just the tip of the iceberg. The corporation was riddled with celebrity monsters. The BBC harbored, in the words of its chairman Chris Patten, a ‘tsunami of filth’. Police investigations were opened. The public awaited the arrest of ‘household names’.
But the second act was yet to come. Since nothing defends better than an attack, the BBC’s flagship investigative journalism program, Newsnight — the very same which scuppered a Savile investigation — prepared in cooperation with a ‘prestigious’ center for investigative journalism a bombshell that would put the Savile scandal in the shade. Newsnight claimed a “senior Tory politician” from the 1990s was a child abuser. They ran trailers for the ballyhooed expose and spread the former politician’s name around on Twitter, virtually convicting him by publicity. But there was one problem. It wasn’t true.
Under the threat of a lawsuit, the BBC retracted, apologized, suspended the Newsnight investigation and dropped cooperation with prestigious center for investigative journalism. Nor did things stop there, the BBC’s recently appointed director general, George Entwistle, resigned after only a few months after taking over previous director general who is taking over management of the New York Times. Entwistle was blamed for allowing this circus to go forward. Meanwhile, his predecessor had gone over to the America to take charge of All the News That’s Fit to Print.
New York Times Co. CEO Mark Thompson is starting his job on Monday amid a widening scandal at his former employer, the BBC.
When the Times hired him in August, Thompson was hailed as someone who could help the company generate new revenue at a time when print publications are suffering from the loss of readers and advertisers.
In recent months, he has faced questions over a decision by the BBC’s “Newsnight” program last December to shelve an investigation into child sexual-abuse allegations against renowned British television host Jimmy Savile, who died last year. That decision was made while Thompson was head of the BBC.
But in resigning Entwistle created a scandal of his own. He took twice the money he was owed under his contractual payout raising suspicions that was being silenced with money. Now Patten, Entwistle’s superior, is himself is looking politically vulnerable.
The BBC scandal has become like a sharp knife over which two political parties are grappling for possession, slicing into whatever it comes across. Faced with the necessity of bringing it under control without appearing to bring it under control, it has left a trail of victims in its wake.
But whichever way the blade cuts its effect is the same: a lessening of prestige in the Great and the Good. It is the equivalent of the Roman Catholic pedophile scandal but this time detonating inside the cathedral of the secular state.
As stories emerge about the “national treasurers” of the state media literally being given keys to hospitals, orphanages, and institutions for the retarded in order to gratify their bestial instincts, a growing part of the public is asking itself: where is my tax money going to? For unlike the churches which the BBC was itself fond of investigating, the Corporation is epitome of national public television and radio. It is what Big Bird would like to be if he could grow up. It lives on a compulsory fee charged to everyone who owns a TV set in the UK whether they watch the BBC or not.
And maybe it’s no better and possibly worse than those it pretends to stand in judgment of. The public is now realizing they’re being raped with their own money. Not that they can put a stop to it though. Unless the scandal grows so large that it topples the entire British Establishment, the storm will blow over. The scandal will be forgotten and the celebrities will rise again.
The men who preceded Mark Thompson across the Atlantic some hundreds of years ago dreamed of creating a society without celebrity; whose government would consist of ordinary men, dullards and uninteresting normal people. From that collection of temporary officialdom nothing special was expected other than that they would be much like those from whom they had sprung.
Today the expectation is the opposite. Societies want to be governed by people who can sing, dance, dissimulate and orate. Abe Greenwald at Commentary notes that “Barack Obama ushered in America’s first large-scale experiment in personality-cult politics.”
“The experiment continues apace. Obama got reelected because he enjoys a degree of personal popularity disconnected from his record. No modern president has ever been returned to office with employment figures and right-track-wrong-track numbers as poor as those Obama has achieved.”
At the center of power is the personality and at the root of legitimacy is the myth burnished by the taxpayer dollar. In the center of the city stands the brazen idol we thought ourselves far too sophisticated to fall down before and worship.