The peculiar and very bitter New Labour vendetta against the BBC presenter, John Humphrys, has at last drawn blood. Our government really, really hates the man and it is being aided in its campaign by one or two sycophantic News International journalists and one or two naive or envious souls from within the BBC itself.
For the best part of a decade, New Labour has repeatedly accused the Today presenter of engendering within the listening public a cynical attitude towards politicians. It is, the spin doctors aver, the ‘Humphrys Problem’ and for seven years the Prime Minister has conspicuously avoided being interviewed by the man. That, I suspect, is at the heart of the issue: Labour does not like the relentless and forensic manner in which Humphrys (and, for that matter, Paxman) conducts interviews with government ministers; the refusal to sanction obfuscation and — you have to say — on occasion downright lying. There are some non-aligned journalists who have a degree of sympathy with Labour’s complaints — John Lloyd, for example. But the majority of those who attack the man are very much aligned indeed, such as Tom Baldwin at the Times, a close friend of Alastair Campbell (who these days is himself a Times journalist, of a sort). Within the Corporation, meanwhile, there are those who feel Mr Humphrys has got a bit above his station — the ludicrous former acting chairman of the governors, Lord Ryder, is one such. And as we have seen, there are others.
This last week the Times devoted two pages to an attack on Mr Humphrys, based on comments he is alleged to have made during a light-hearted address to a bunch of public relations executives aboard a cruise ship moored off the coast at Southampton. Short of being stuck in the New Orleans Superdome, I cannot imagine a much worse fate than to be imprisoned on a luxury Narrenschiff with 200 or so bibulous PR monkeys — one hopes Mr Humphrys was well paid for enduring such an appalling ordeal.