An American in England

November 11, 2012

Watching the two scandals that have emerged regarding BBC journalism across the last two months has been troubling in terms of our capitalist system.

On the one hand, we do need to hold leaders of businesses such as this more accountable for performance of their businesses, but there is a significant counter tendency to throw out the leaders regardless of who’s responsible for what went wrong.

There can be two mistakes that are made in the way this kind of thing comes down: The first is when the wrong evaluation of responsibility takes place. Examples abound. Often, this is when the economy takes a left turn and the business suffers. Sometimes, often, there is no executive who could rightly be judged to have anticipated this and to have had a plan in mind to avoid it. Nevertheless, we throw out the CEO and others sometimes, and we go out to find another executive. All of this adds up to “whitewashing” the situation and forcing a “scapegoat” to be held responsible for the problems, plus a huge loss of effectiveness while a new team is installed and comes up to speed. This is done by Boards, often, to preserve their own positions–it’s more risky for them to stick with the present executives through a crisis, although that might well result in better long term value for the enterprise. It looks better for them to be “decisive” and throw the team out.  Presumably, everyone can go away feeling satisfied that this kind of thing could never happen again–but it inevitably does.

The second way is when someone like George Entwistle is forced to resign, when his time in office is so short–54 days in his case–that it is normally extremely unrealistic to expect he would have been able to uncover journalistic flaws and holes such as to prevent these two scandals developing. And, best as this American in London can see, he has not tried to cover anything up, was busy setting about to get to the bottom of it and fix the system.

British broadcasters even criticized him for his not reading the Herald Tribune on the morning of the revelation that the 2nd scandal was clarified–the accused of sexual abuse did not do it, he later learned. Entwistle had been off early to make a speech that morning and hadn’t time to read the paper. Broadcasters interviewing him criticized him for bad priorities–which seems ridiculous on the surface–if he had known such information was to be revealed, he surely would have read the paper, but no one knew that!

We don’t know this executive. Perhaps he’s not the best who could be found. Nevertheless, England, you’re moving too quickly to judge someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to try to make a better BBC for you. And, how is that most of the press has been so complimentary to the oversight trust and its executive?  Didn’t they choose Entwistle, and what support did they give him to get started? All of the people and processes that resulted in these problems are the creation of his predecessors, and some of the subordinates, some of whom he would surely have properly disciplined, given time to make sure his findings were fair.

In a case like this, why is there no-one who is willing to stand up and defend the long and proven journalistic record of the BBC and also to defend the right for this man to have a chance to make it better? Why does everyone seem to want to take the position of being the most “moral?” What if he had been there 43 days? 33? There are often two sides to morality around an issue, and we believe you erred in this one by leaping to what is seen to be the side that will gain most popularity with the vast public. Where is the leader who is willing to stand up for what she thinks is truly fair and best?

This kind of thing happens in the US too, but in this case, England, shame on you!

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