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6 June 2023

The BBC degrades itself with its Phillip Schofield fixation

From an “exclusive” interview to a live feed on the This Morning presenter’s departure, the broadcaster has left its lofty ideals behind.

By John Ware

Did Phillip Schofield groom his young lover? So far, the young man has not made that claim, despite, one assumes, reporters waving large cheque books in his face to try to get him to tell his story. ITV says he has told the broadcaster he has no “wish to be named or identified”.

Did Schofield manoeuvre him into a job on ITV’s This Morning, which he presented? Again, ITV says the young man was appointed by proper process. Did Schofield lie to ITV about the fact that they’d had sex when rumours spread? Yes, but then so did his young lover, several times, apparently right up to the last moment.

Has Schofield in any sense sought to minimise his guilt at having lied? Quite the reverse. He admitted he was wrong to start a relationship with the young man, which began in his dressing room. And he said to the Sun without caveat: “I let everybody down.” Was ITV right to support his resignation? “It’s my fault. I deserve it.”

Despite all this, by my count BBC Online alone has now written over 11,000 words on Schofieldgate. Last week the BBC broadcast an “exclusive” sit-down with Schofield called “The Interview” – with all the fanfare of Emily Maitlis’s Prince Andrew scoop but none of the impact.

Perhaps this is a generational thing, but where’s the story and what on earth has the BBC been up to?

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On This Morning’s first day back after Schofield’s departure, with his co-presenter Holly Willoughby also absent, there was the breathless urgency of a live BBC feed tracking minute by minute what was going on on the ITV sofa. “All I can think about is the Phillip and Holly scandal and why the network won’t tackle it head-on, given how much of the show’s DNA and success is based on their pairing,” panted a reporter from something called “BBC News Culture”.

Same thing on Monday – another BBC live feed as a “shaken” Willoughby returned to the sofa. “Are you OK?” she asked viewers. The BBC highlighted Willoughby being hugged by her guest co-presenter Josie Gibson, “leaning” on Gibson for “emotional support”. Had Willoughby just survived a plane crash or something?

Then there was the Today programme, Nicky Campbell, Newsnight, The World Tonight, which made this its lead story, and the News at Ten, where it was second lead. “There’s a reckoning going on across many advanced democracies about how people behave in workplaces,” intoned a solemn Amol Rajan on the latter. “And now Schofield and ITV are, I think, part of that reckoning.” The really big question was “whether Britain’s biggest commercial public service broadcaster is sufficiently interested in and tough on potential abuse of power”.

Really? Define “sufficiently” and “potential”. How probing do we want to be about legal workplace affairs when they’re denied multiple times? Or about people in the closet? Or “abuse” that is only “potential”, not yet real? This was portentous nonsense, surely, from a usually insightful reporter.

There are many “reckonings” of epic proportions going on right now – between the West and Russia, an ex-PM accused of abusing of power yet whose return to office is still being openly supported by the Mail newspapers and GB News (the same media groups seemingly most affronted by ITV’s handling of what were essentially unproven rumours).

So God alone knows why MPs on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are getting busy on this one when there is no victim, no evidence of a crime, or anything much beyond an employee lying to his employer.

In this case the real “reckoning” is not over an internal ITV matter but the pile-on that Schofield says brought him to the point of contemplating suicide – and the sheer bafflement of many BBC loyalists (me included) at how on Schofieldgate, the broadcaster seems to have departed from its loftier purpose of providing perspective, and new and important angles. (Rajan did to be fair get a half scoop, shared with the Sun.)

The BBC seems to be trying to get as much attention as it can by shouting as loudly as possible, even if that means getting down and dirty with the rest of them, because that’s where the viewers and the online hits are. Vested interests – some with scores to settle – seem to have massively overcooked Schofieldgate and the BBC has joined the screeching. It is not a fitting sound. Who is keeping an eye on the BBC? That’s also part of the real story.

[See also: Fear and loathing at the BBC]

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