It’s been a bad year for Britain’s state owned broadcaster, the BBC. First came revelations that Jimmy Savile, one of the Beeb’s most famous and flamboyant past personalities, had spent decades sexually abusing teen girls. Now, the broadcast network’s new director has been forced to resign over a wholly separate story, based on an unsourced and false claim that a British Lord had similarly abused children years ago.
George Entwistle was the man pegged to take over for retiring BBC chief Mark Thompson, who recently left England for America to become the newest CEO of The New York Times. Now, Entwistle, who was in charge of the BBC for less than two months, has had to resign over a program that falsely accused a former British politician of abusing children back in the 1970s and 80s.
This new scandal just adds to the BBC’s woes. In September, the BBC was rocked by an investigation revealing that their star, Jimmy Savile, had committed the sexual abuse of up to 10 women, at least one of which was a 14-year-old at the time. This news shocked the British Isles as Savile was a beloved BBC radio disc jockey, media personality, TV star, and charity fundraiser. His flamboyant exploits had been watched by several generations of Brits until his death in 2011.
Savile’s star was badly tarnished a year after his death when the charges of sexual abuse, molestation, and rape were leveled against him. Worse came charges that BBC officials had since the 1960s helped cover up Savile’s sexual exploitation of young women in order to keep his career viable and avoid an embarrassing scandal.
As more women came forward in the ensuing weeks, the BBC realized it had a major scandal on its hands. The tole of victims grew quickly as those abused by Sevile came forward. There may have been upwards to 300 of them.
Few were blaming the newly hired Entwistle for the Savile scandal, of course, but the new Beeb chief fell into a separate scandal all his own, an incident that forced him to resign as head of the BBC on November 10. His resignation came only 54 days after he first took his new position.
On November 1, a TV presenter and investigative reporter named Iain Overton went on a news show called Newsnight and previewed what he said would be a child abuse scandal that would rock the Tory Party. Overton claimed that they’d found evidence that back in the 1970s and 80s a politician by the name of Lord Robert Alistair McAlpine, a former Tory Party official in Margaret Thatcher’s administration, had abused some young boys who then lived at a children’s home.
The November report recounted the testimony of one Steve Messham who claimed that a “senior political figure of the time” had abused him when he was a teen and identified Lord McAlpine as his attacker. But it turns out that Meersham recanted his story all the way back in 1997 when an investigation proved that Lord McAlpine’s cousin, Jimmie McAlpine, was really the one under suspicion. There was even a flurry of stories in the British press in 1998 that initially accused Lord McAlpine of being the one under suspicion, but it all quickly blew over once the police clarified that it was all a case of mistaken identity.
If during this current investigation the BBC had bothered to do its due diligence, it would have recovered these long-known facts. But as it happens, the BBC never bothered to validate the long ago discredited accusation against Lord McAlpine before broadcasting its story on November 2 of this year. Pressure mounted and by November 10, the BBC was forced to apologize for the wrongful accusation.
Since this failed report occurred under George Entwistle’s watch, the new Beeb chief resigned in disgrace accused of a “lamentable lack of editorial curiosity.”
One might think that former BBC Chief Mark Thompson, who is about to take his place as CEO of The New York Times, got out of England just in time to miss responsibility for all this mess, but that would be a hasty conclusion. It turns out that in December of 2011, Thompson was in charge of the BBC when the network canceled a Newsnight program that was investigating the Jimmy Savile sex abuse case, months before the scandal broke across the nation.
British officials have a lot of questions about why Thompson seems to have canceled the Savile expose and now watchers of The New York Times are speculating that Thompson will not get to take his position as the Times’ new CEO after all. Many sensibly expect Parliament to recall Thompson to England to face questions over his conduct.
For his part, Thompson has claimed that he was totally unaware that the Newsnight program was looking into Jimmy Sevile’s abuse claims and that the decision to axe the investigation was made by his underlings, one of whom was George Entwistle.
This series of scandals has seriously damaged the trust the British people have in the BBC and it is a lock that more repercussions are sure to come.