It is rare that one interview destroys a career, but the performance by the BBC’s (now former) director-general was pivotal in his departure.
Entwistle failed on that key tenet of crisis management; the need for the boss to take responsibility. He obviously believed that denying knowledge that the Newsnight episode falsely implicated Lord McAlpine would get him ‘off the hook’.
Unfortunately, when you’re paid £450,000 a year to run the world’s greatest journalistic organisation – and Newsnight has already been under scrutiny for failing to uncover the Jimmy Savile scandal – this is not a valid position.
Beyond that, Entwistle was poorly prepared. His claim not to have seen a front-page story by The Guardian the previous day, which discredited Newsnight’s McAlpine story, beggared belief. One would expect the BBC’s director-general to start every day by looking at The Guardian – notorious for being the ‘house magazine’ for the Beeb.
At the very least, with an experienced director of comms (Paul Mylrea) on hand, the director-general should be well briefed on each day’s big stories that affect the corporation.
Some of the media turned their fire on the comms team for failing to do its job, with the right-wing papers keen to point out Mylrea’s ‘£154k salary’. And indeed it doesn’t reflect well. But insiders say Entwistle, who took up his role fewer than two months ago, had sidelined Mylrea from the BBC’s management board.
If this is true, Entwistle made a fundamental mistake, particularly at a time when the BBC was facing its biggest crisis for four years. As never before, the broadcaster needs good reputational advice at the top table, with a free flow of information between senior management, senior journalists and comms professionals.
Unfortunately, one suspects the malaise goes beyond Entwistle’s brief tenure at the top. For the past eight years, the BBC has been cutting thousands of jobs, which has devastated its once legendary journalistic resource. The cuts have also bitten deep into the comms team, which has lost more than 20 per cent of its people and budget of late.
The nation’s broadcaster urgently needs to invest in its core brand – which is world-class, accurate and balanced journalism – and in its comms resource, which is the lifeblood of the BBC’s relationship with all of us who fund it.