Wince along with Ortis Deley

But Channel 4's problems aren't down to just one man.

We've all been there. That moment when you realise that you are hopelessly out of your depth can strike at any time. For some of us, the knowledge comes when you get asked a slightly awkward question in a meeting while you're peering out of the window and wishing you were somewhere else; for others, it happens live on television, in front of hundreds of thousands of people.

For poor Ortis Deley, sometime CBBC broom cupboard anchor and latterday likeable Gadget Show product demonstrator, that moment came this week when he presented Channel 4's World Athletics Championships coverage. Sit through this video - if you can - and wince along with the rest of us.

 

Oh, the poor man. I like him. I don't think he's a bad presenter, at all, but this really wasn't the thing for him. I don't want to see someone fail like that. I've been sitting there, willing him to succeed. But no.

To borrow an image from the athletics arena, it's been a little like watching a very fat man take an unlikely run-up at a 19-foot pole vault; you want it to happen, but you know, in all likelihood, that someone's going to end up with a pretty nasty graze rather than sailing triumphantly through the air and landing smack-bang in the middle of the cushion. You don't want to look, but you have to.

It's wrong, though, to think that Channel 4's problems have been down to one man. Deley's performances are symptomatic, rather than the root cause of the broadcaster's woes -- and installing Rick Edwards, a chisel-faced T4 clone, won't save them now.

So what went wrong? For one thing, Channel 4 were unlucky with the championships: the every-two-years format of world athletics means these games were never going to arouse the same kind of interest as others, and the presence of the Olympics less than a year away means all athletes have one eye on London.

As well as that, the big stars have failed to sparkle: British hopes like Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis have been pipped for glory, while Usain shot his Bolt and denied the world a moment of magic.

Bad luck, then, but it goes beyond that. The sheer amount of adverts -- accompanied by that rather irritating tune that reminds me of "Do you think I'm sexy" by Rod Stewart -- has irritated many viewers, used to seeing the flow of a championships develop on the ad-free BBC.

Channel 4 have done sport before, and done it very well: look back to those dim and distant days when you could actually watch live cricket on terrestrial telly, and they provided epic coverage of the Ashes series between England and Australia back in 2005. Since then, though, the channel's sports coverage has fallen away somewhat, apart from racing, which they continue to provide to a higher standard than their competitors.

That's a shame, because sports fans are left with rather binary options when it comes to their viewing pleasure nowadays. We're stuck with either the gloss of the BBC output -- which guarantees a roar of disapproval from the Corporation's critics in the broadsheets; how dare they spend money doing something properly, sending more than Hamilton Bland and two cocoa tins on a string to the biggest sporting spectacles in the world, etc etc etc - or never knowingly subtle Sky Sports. Must it be one or the other?

The trouble is, I suppose, that to do something actually well costs money. Sport costs a bundle before you've spent any money on the programme itself - just buying the rights sets broadcasters back an eyewatering amount - so by the time you've got around to thinking about what you're going to do with it, it might well be too late.

That's the reason for the mass of adverts during the athletics on Channel 4. I hope the rather limited success of Channel 4's Daegu coverage won't put them off having a bash in the future, but I rather fear it will.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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How Donald Trump is slouching towards the Republican nomination

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb.

In America, you can judge a crowd by its merchandise. Outside the Connecticut Convention Centre in Hartford, frail old men and brawny moms are selling “your Trump 45 football jerseys”, “your hats”, “your campaign buttons”. But the hottest item is a T-shirt bearing the slogan “Hillary sucks . . . but not like Monica!” and, on the back: “Trump that bitch!” Inside, beyond the checkpoint manned by the Transportation Security Administration and the secret service (“Good!” the man next to me says, when he sees the agents), is a family whose three kids, two of them girls, are wearing the Monica shirt.

Other people are content with the shirts they arrived in (“Waterboarding – baptising terrorists with freedom” and “If you don’t BLEED red, white and blue, take your bitch ass home!”). There are 80 chairs penned off for the elderly but everyone else is standing: guys in motorcycle and military gear, their arms folded; aspiring deal-makers, suited, on cellphones; giggling high-school fatsos, dressed fresh from the couch, grabbing M&M’s and Doritos from the movie-theatre-style concession stands. So many baseball hats; deep, bellicose chants of “Build the wall!” and “USA!”. (And, to the same rhythm, “Don-ald J!”)

A grizzled man in camouflage pants and combat boots, whose T-shirt – “Connecticut Militia III%” – confirms him as a member of the “patriot” movement, is talking to a zealous young girl in a short skirt, who came in dancing to “Uptown Girl”.

“Yeah, we were there for Operation American Spring,” he says. “Louis Farrakhan’s rally of hate . . .”

“And you’re a veteran?” she asks. “Thank you so much!”

Three hours will pass. A retired US marine will take the rostrum to growl, “God bless America – hoo-rah!”; “Uptown Girl” will play many more times (much like his speeches, Donald J’s playlist consists of a few items, repeated endlessly), before Trump finally looms in and asks the crowd: “Is this the greatest place on Earth?”

There was supposed to be a ceiling above which Trump’s popular support could not climb. Only a minority within a minority of Americans, it was assumed, could possibly be stupid enough to think a Trump presidency was a good idea. He won New Hampshire and South Carolina with over 30 per cent of the Republican vote, then took almost 46 per cent in Nevada. When he cleaned up on Super Tuesday in March, he was just shy of 50 per cent in Massachusetts; a week later, he took 47 per cent of the votes in Mississippi.

His rivals, who are useless individually, were meant to co-operate with each other and the national party to deny him the nomination. But Trump won four out of the five key states being contested on “Super-Duper Tuesday” on 15 March. Then, as talk turned to persuading and co-opting his delegates behind the scenes, Trump won New York with 60 per cent.

Now, the campaign is trying to present Trump as more “presidential”. According to his new manager, Paul Manafort, this requires him to appear in “more formal settings” – without, of course, diluting “the unique magic of Trump”. But whether or not he can resist denouncing the GOP and the “corrupt” primary system, and alluding to violence if he is baulked at at the convention, the new Trump will be much the same as the old.

Back in Hartford: “The Republicans wanna play cute with us, right? If I don’t make it, you’re gonna have millions of people that don’t vote for a Republican. They’re not gonna vote at all,” says Trump. “Hopefully that’s all, OK? Hopefully that’s all, but they’re very, very angry.”

This anger, which can supposedly be turned on anyone who gets in the way, has mainly been vented, so far, on the protesters who disrupt Trump’s rallies. “We’re not gonna be the dummies that lose all of our jobs now. We’re gonna be the smart ones. Oh, do you have one over there? There’s one of the dummies . . .”

There is a frenzied fluttering of Trump placards, off to his right. “Get ’em out! . . . Don’t hurt ’em – see how nice I am? . . . They really impede freedom of speech and it’s a disgrace. But the good news is, folks, it won’t be long. We’re just not taking it and it won’t be long.”

It is their removal by police, at Trump’s ostentatious behest, that causes the disruption, rather than the scarcely audible protesters. He seems to realise this, suddenly: “We should just let ’em . . . I’ll talk right over them, there’s no problem!” But it’s impossible to leave the protesters where they are, because it would not be safe. His crowd is too vicious.

Exit Trump, after exactly half an hour, inclusive of the many interruptions. His people seem uplifted but, out on the street, they are ambushed by a large counter-demonstration, with a booming drum and warlike banners and standards (“Black Lives Matter”; an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, holding aloft Trump’s severed head). Here is the rest of the world, the real American world: young people, beautiful people, more female than male, every shade of skin colour. “F*** Donald Trump!” they chant.

After a horrified split-second, the Trump crowd, massively more numerous, rallies with “USA!” and – perplexingly, since one of the main themes of the speech it has just heard was the lack of jobs in Connecticut – “Get a job!” The two sides then mingle, unobstructed by police. Slanging matches break out that seem in every instance to humiliate the Trump supporter. “Go to college!” one demands. “Man, I am in college, I’m doin’ lovely!”

There is no violence, only this: some black boys are dancing, with liquid moves, to the sound of the drum. Four young Trump guys counter by stripping to their waists and jouncing around madly, their skin greenish-yellow under the street lights, screaming about the building of the wall. There was no alcohol inside; they’re drunk on whatever it is – the elixir of fascism, the unique magic of Trump. It’s a hyper but not at all happy drunk.

As with every other moment of the Trump campaign so far, it would have been merely some grade of the cringeworthy – the embarrassing, the revolting, the pitiful – were Trump not slouching closer and closer, with each of these moments, to his nomination. 

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism