Magazine article The Spectator

Error of Judgment

Magazine article The Spectator

Error of Judgment

Article excerpt


One of the hazards of writing columns is that occasionally what looks good on the computer screen and printed copy can, when it is published, appear unfair, exaggerated and injudicious. It is easy to be carried away by what you think is an arresting sentence or sentiment. This, I suspect, is what happened when Rod Liddle, the editor of the Today programme on Radio Four, penned in the Guardian his absurd attack on those taking part in the Liberty and Livelihood March the Sunday before last.

It landed him in trouble with the BBC which told him he must choose between his newspaper column and the Today editorship, before forcing his departure from the post. He is to become a presenter of programmes instead, something he was already exploring. The Corporation had earlier announced that the comments had been 'unacceptable' from a Today editor and that Liddle had agreed it was a `significant error of judgment'. The BBC is right; it was. In fact, the more I re-read the offending article the more mystified I become. The error was compounded by Today largely ignoring the biggest civil protest in British history in its programme the following morning, opening Liddle to more accusations of bias.

Liddle had written:

In my neck of the woods (Wiltshire) the people who attended the march were largely those who own the countryside or run it, together with a forelock-tugging menagerie of their better-paid servants.

He concluded, for those people who had forgotten why they voted Labour in 1997, that:

then you catch a glimpse of the forces supporting the Countryside Alliance: the public schools that laid on coaches; the fusty, belch-- filled dining rooms of the London clubs that opened their doors, for the first time, to the protesters; the Prince of Wales and, of course, Camilla ... and suddenly, rather gloriously, it might be that you remember again.

This is rather good, provocative writing but hideously wrong. I was abroad when the march took place though I participated in the previous very large gathering. Some of the London clubs opened their doors to the marchers then; I was invited into White's for a tincture which I declined as I didn't think there was time. Those taking part were from all walks of countryside life: farm labourers, Scottish ghillies, gamekeepers, terrier men, as well as struggling farmers and the better-off landowners. …

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