The scene was the BBC Five Live studio, this morning at 8.08am. Nicky Campbell crosses to BBC Business Editor, infamous party goer and fixture of the establishment, Robert Peston, to ask for an update for listeners on the American angle to the witch hunt against News Corp and the resignation of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Peston (seen above hard at it, getting wonderful little snippets of information) provides his insight about the impact on Murdoch’s US interests as a result and explains how following Stephenson’s departure John Yates was sure to follow. Then Campbell appears to toss a hand grenade at Peston by bringing up a matter that Peston has been keeping a very low profile about – namely his attendance at an opulent party thrown by Elisabeth Murdoch and her husband.
Campbell starts off setting the scene in serious tones as a journalist should; but as you can see from the transcript below, the question that should have been asked is replaced with an idiotic jokey punchline. It was too good to be true, as this was a staged exchange designed to give Peston the opportunity to deflect attention away from his rubbing shoulders with the very people he and his employer are desperately trying to wreck…
NC: Now the links between politicians and, you know, the Murdoch family have been laid bare in the newspapers over the weekend. There was reports of a massive party two or three weeks ago, I think you were at it as well were you? A sort of big Murdoch party, is that right? There were reports in the newspaper that you attended and the great and the good attended and they were all there… What are these affairs like?
RP: (Huge belly laugh) One of the most innocent questions I’ve ever heard you put Nicky. Er, I mean, I’m sure you’ve been to these parties yourself. This was a party, err, let’s be absolutely clear this party took place before, err, this whole story blew up and before the Milly Dowler, allegations about the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone. Err, broadly speaking my view of parties is if there are a lot of people around who may or may not have useful things, err, to tell me, who may be sort of useful sources for me as a journalist then they’re bloody useful things. This was a party thrown…
NC: Oh yeah, absolutely, when you observe, observing [descends into blustering waffle] what was reportedly a lavish affair Rupert was there and James was there, do you see, do politicians you know, visibly do they sort of crawl and fawn to these people, do they try and speak to them? I mean, what’s the body language, what’s going on?
RP: Look, in the past, one has been to lots of these parties in the past, in the past, people were queueing up to go to Murdoch parties; senior politicans were queueing up to go to Murdoch parties and they were queueing up to speak to Rupert Murdoch. I think if one of these parties were held tomorrow it would be very difficult to see any politician turning up. Err, which tells you something about the way the world, err, has, err, changed. But again, just to be clear, you know because one needs to be transparent about these things, this was a party given by Elisabeth Murdoch and by her husband Matthew Freud, who’s in the public relations business. This was not a Rupert Murdoch party or a James Murdoch party or a News Corporation party.
NC: OK fair enough, but interesting stuff. And I don’t blame you for going for getting wonderful little snippets of information that we hear about every morning.
RP: That’s the plan
NC: That’s it. Thank you very much Robert Peston.
And there we have it. The BBC establishment closing ranks and working in harmony to defuse an embarrassing episode that lays bare the rank hypocrisy of its publicly funded smear squad.
Instead of challenging Peston, Nicky Campbell lobs him a slow softball and pointedly refuses to press him about how often he attends these parties, whether he is invited as a friend or a journalist, whether it was appropriate to attend knowing the Murdochs would be there at a time when pressure was being applied to News International about Andy Coulson.
All very cosy. All very reasonable. Move along licence fee payer, there is nothing to see here. The BBC, this is what they do.