Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

If X Factor acts can take the flak, then why can't our politicians?

Boring on: Rachel Reeves

What a fiasco! A man told the truth. In public. May he burn in hell. Or at least lose his job. It must be said, rookie Newsnight editor Ian Katz hasn't had the smoothest first week in his new role.

But as BBC2's flagship show seems to have become the place where respected journalists come to die, he should have expected a rough ride.

Perhaps he did. Perhaps that was the problem; constantly on his toes triple-checking every uttered fact and seeking out sudden revelations that would poo poo just transmitted reports, Katz made the terrible mistake of assuming all was well when the broadcast ended without provoking tabloid scandal, legal address or a street riot.

He didn't consider that the Newsnight curse does not switch off at 11.20pm but curls and seeps like witches' smoke all night long. And if one sends a private message to a pal having a go at one of its guests, that message is sure to actually be a public tweet read by millions by daybreak. Ah, Ian (who arrived from a far more closeted position as deputy editor of the Guardian; ie, no one read his tweets) – you have much to learn child.

Katz said, in what he believed to be a private direct message, that Labour MP Rachel Reeves, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, had been "boring, snoring" in her interview with Jeremy Paxman. What a b*****d. I think you'll agree he could hardly have been any harsher if he'd called her a pointless old bag who should be drowned in a sack.

Certainly, the Labour Party reacted as if he'd said just that, calling his comment "completely unacceptable", and claiming it put in jeopardy the partiality of the show. MPs demanded an immediate apology and threatened to boycott the programme forevermore. What a snoringly boring and silly response.

I can't have been the only one who cheered and laughed when I read Katz's unarguably accurate observation and felt quite excited about this new policy for the Newsnight editor to review with Cowell-esque frankness his guests' performances after each show. Here, I thought, was a man who knew unspeakably bland rhetoric when he heard it – surely a desirable quality in a TV editor.

(Paxman, by the way, evidently agreed; he looked catatonic as Reeves ran through the predictable list of "issues that really matter to people" and only roused to say, irritably, "Oh we know what George Osborne says!" when she launched into a routine party-predictable critique of the chancellor.)

So I was a little disappointed to discover that Katz had in fact meant to keep his thoughts private and wasn't quite as thrillingly cavalier with his droplets of disrespect as I'd hoped. He issued an apology for his "ill-judged remark" but insisted that it had no bearing on the fairness of the show.

He was entirely correct, of course. His comments were really a reflection of the consistently "boring snoring" on-message platitudes MPs offer up to telly viewers night after night, for which they should apologise to voters. So rare is the chink of humour, the slit of humanity and individuality, that anyone with half a personality – like the (greedily envied) Boris Johnson or Alan Johnson – shines like a star.

Politicians wonder why the people just don't seem to be on their side. Let me be clear. It's because you bore us to death with a non-stop diet of fudge and trifle, then pursue with a vengeance anyone who dares to say so. Does that help?

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