BBC news, particularly any show produced by Rob Burley, is always keen to give airtime to voices from the extreme right. This policy is part of director-general Tony Hall’s commitment to the “broadest range of views” being allowed a platform on the BBC as he elucidated in his ‘Annual Plan’ in March.
“Making sure all sides of a debate are heard – all different views and voices – is fundamental to our mission. We must stand up for it and defend our role like never before. It is essential if we are to continue to be the place people know they can trust to get to grips with what is truly happening in the world, and to hear the broadest range of views.”
Today, right-wing extremist Ben Shapiro was given a platform on Burley’s Politics Live show interviewed by Andrew Neil. Ahead of the interview Burley tried to reassure viewers that Neil would ask tough questions. Neil, who can be a good interviewer when he wants to be, did ask tough questions and raised concerns about Shapiro’s extreme political philosophy; the latter’s response was petulant and uncooperative and concluded with an abrupt termination of the interview. Immediately after the exchange Burley congratulated the BBC, himself and Neil on exposing Shapiro, but is that what happened?
Characters like Shapiro are charlatans and conmen. His type has no interest in addressing queries that challenge his warped rhetoric and philosophy. His response to such inquiry will always be aggression, name-calling, distraction and petulance. The interview went as expected for anyone with even the remotest knowledge about the methodology of Shapiro’s type.
Burley and Neil’s justification for their satisfaction with the interview consisted of pleasure that Shapiro had been exposed as not being an intellectual and of not having the capacity for reasoned argument. No-one thought he did have such qualities. His modus crassendi is not detailed, thorough, exhaustive and cohesive. Shapiro’s method of persuasion is as simplistic as possible with no thought given to consistency or lack of contradictions. He is a typical right-wing snake-oil salesperson. Thus, the BBC’s satisfaction was worthless.
Ben Shapiro was relatively unknown in Britain even among those who share his extremist outlook. A lunchtime slot on BBC’s main channel was a boon for him. People who are likely to be drawn toward Shapiro’s philosophy will not be deterred by the fact that Neil appeared to “win” the interview. For such people, Shapiro’s aggressive clumsy responses would be welcomed as they (and he) like to position themselves fraudulently as “anti-establishment.” Shapiro’s refrain to Neil to “admit you’re on the left” was a clarion call to all the confidence tricksters on the right who need to depict the BBC as left-of-centre and biased. Tellingly, Neil laughed off the suggestion he was left-of-centre. (Oddly, after the interview Shapiro apologised for calling Neil left-wing.)
Burley claimed that Neil’s successful examination of Shapiro was better than not having Shapiro on mainstream TV. But, the likes of Shapiro follow an agenda that requires such an encounter with someone like Neil. Shapiro got a platform. His name is now known more widely to far-right extremists in Britain who will be utterly unperturbed by how the interview progressed. Neil and Burley patted themselves on the back, erroneously.