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A Perfect Storm

So let me get this right. The way this particular storm has unfolded is as follows.

The News of the World collapsed, following a scandal arising from the manner in which it conducted its investigative reporting. A leading role in this process was played by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, on which Tom Watson MP was a most effective inquisitor.

At the same time, the BBC’s stock fell dramatically, as a result of the revelation that Newsnight had failed in its duty as an investigator of wrongdoing, when it pulled segment in which a woman had accused the late Jimmy Savile of attacking her, sexually.

Tom Watson MP then stood up in the House of Commons, on 24 October, and alleged that there was a  ”widespread paedophile ring” with “links to a senior aide of a former prime minister” who he did not name, but who he suggested should be considered for prosecution. When it was suggested that the man in question was a particular MP was the late Sir Peter Morrison, Tom Watson MP said that he was not referring to him. At that point, I began to hear gossip that Lord McAlpine was the subject of the allegation.

The BBC and Newsnight,  anxious no doubt to show that it would not put itself in a place, again, where it could be criticised for shielding a powerful and respected man who was also abuser of children, transmitted a documentary in which a man alleged that he had been sexually abused by a particular Tory statesman. He meant Lord McAlpine, but that name was not broadcast.

Now, the man has retracted his allegations, declared that he was shown a photograph of a man who had abused him, and who he said he was told was Lord McAlpine, but who was not, and has apologised to Lord McAlpine.

And so, George Entwistle has resigned as Director General of the BBC.

At the heart of all these stories is a question of journalistic ethics, due diligence and best practice, in relation to the investigation of misconduct by public figures. Those who have been most vocal in criticising newspapers for their poor investigative practice have, perhaps, been guilty of the same sins themselves. Moreover, the BBC is in desperate trouble, first for failing to report an allegation of criminal conduct, and then for doing so, on the evidence of a witness who has now retracted the charge.

It is a most remarkable affair.