An open letter to my new friend, the BBC’s Media Editor Amol Rajan

Dear Mr. Rajan,

I note you ‘regret’ your personal insult. I also note you apparently do not ‘regret’ it enough to apologise for it, though you have—wisely—deleted it.

[For anyone interested: as you can see in the screenshot, Mr. Rajan—the BBC’s Media Editor and a former editor of The Independent—offered some analysis I felt lacked a certain academic rigour. When I said as much on Twitter, Mr. Rajan called me a “witless imbecile”.]

Having successfully(-ish) practised law for more than 20 years I feel fairly confident I am neither ‘witless’ (one unable to think clearly or rationally) nor an ‘imbecile’ (a stupid or idiotic person). If your hair trigger is so slight that your first response to criticism is to resort to such insults, perhaps you may find withdrawing from journalism and/or public life more agreeable.

If you are “tiring of the intellectual indolence on social media”, then: (a) ‘delete your account’, as the kids don’t say, and (b) welcome to the monster the media created. If people working in the media would stop lazily copying-and-pasting tweets and posts (more often than not published by other people working in the media) and passing it off as “news”, perhaps social networks would be a lot less pervasive than they are.

And while I think “intellectual indolence” is a neat turn of phrase, how can you possibly expect anything else from a format limited to 140 characters? Twitter’s hardly the Oxford Union, is it?

Do I think your wider point stands? To some extent, yes.

However, I don’t remember ever reading a worthwhile analysis of any issue of significance that can be made in nine sentences. Nor do I have much faith in analysts who open their analysis by saying they don’t know what went on and therefore can’t actually analyse the issue in question.

I also think “the media” are self-obsessed in a manner that would make Narcissus blush. If you were to ask 1,000 Britons who don’t work in the media if they really care about whether National Treasure® Clare Balding puffed up a puff piece to make it just a bit puffier, I’d be most surprised if the “yes” response exceeded 5%. That tendency towards navel-gazing (shared with politicians) is why media folk (and political wonks) were surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum, when its distinct possibility had long been apparent to those whose work-life sphere regularly extends beyond the south-east of England.

Further and regrettably, the media “cede control… when setting up interviews” quite often. Take this example: To the best of my knowledge, this was not broadcast on either television or radio. Given that, as you correctly write, “the basic job of journalists is to scrutinise power”, should such behaviour from a politician wanting to become Prime Minister not be called out? How is acquiescing to such behaviour and just airing the soundbite on news bulletins materially different from giving an interviewee copy approval?

Do I care? I hope the foregoing shows that I do care. I won multiple national student journalism awards when you were apparently six years old. (And yes, that fact makes me want to kill myself.) I always intended to be a journalist and I’ve spent enough time in and around newsrooms to value what they do—or, sadly, what they routinely used to do and now do only occasionally. I’m pretty certain that if the same journalistic standards which applied a few decades ago still applied today, Donald Trump would not have got anywhere near the White House.

As far as your insult goes, I quote an old movie: “I’ve been called a lot worse by a lot better people.” (Many of them judges.) But it is certainly conduct unbecoming of the BBC’s Media Editor.

In fact, it might be the sort of indecent journalistic behaviour reported on Radio 4’s Media Show… were that programme not presented by the BBC’s Media Editor.

But, hey: if you’d like to prove me wrong and debate the point on air (I’ve done 4,000+ hours of live radio so I know my way around a studio), you know where you can reach me.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Westwood