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Monday, September 05, 2005 

John Humphrys tells the truth and gets attacked for it.

The BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys has hit back at allegations that he disparaged senior Labour politicians in an after-dinner speech by implying that all ministers are liars.

Yesterday the BBC announced that it had asked for a full transcript of Humphrys' remarks to the Commercial Directors' Forum on June 8 amid newspaper claims that he had used the speech to pour scorn on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell.

In a video and transcript of the speech published on the Times website, Humphrys is reported as saying that some MPs "couldn't give a bugger whether they lie or not", and mocking the chancellor as "easily the most boring political interviewee I have ever had in my whole bloody life".

Humphrys also refers to Mr Brown, who lost sight in his left eye after being kicked in a school rugby game, as winking at him from "his one good eye" during a Today interview and pokes fun at Mr Prescott's habit of mangling familiar phrases, saying people "can't understand a bloody word he says".

Yesterday, Humphrys hit back at the Times report, saying it was "disgraceful" for the newspaper to suggest that his remarks were intended to imply that all ministers were liars.

"It's not what I believe and never have done," he told the Guardian.

Humphrys claimed the newspaper and its stablemate, the Sunday Times, which carried a similar report yesterday, had "conflated" a series of remarks he had made about politicians.

"What I actually said was that there are three kinds of politicians: those who do not lie full stop, those who lie if they absolutely have to, and those who do not give a bugger about lying," said Humphrys.

In one section of his speech Humphrys reportedly refers to the row over the Andrew Gilligan affair, telling his after-dinner audience that the former Radio 4 reporter's controversial claims that Downing Street deliberately inserted false information to "sex up" intelligence in Iraq, were substantially true.

"The fact is that we got it right," he is heard to say.

Humphrys also describes Mr Campbell, who led the government's attacks on Gilligan and Today, as "a pretty malevolent force" and pokes fun at an interview Cherie Blair gave to the Sun during the last general election in which she hinted at her husband's sexual stamina.

John Humphrys is often described as one of the BBC's interview "attack-dogs", the kind that actually do grill politicans over their policies and occasionally get the better of them. Along with Jeremy Paxman, he's one of the two presenters at the BBC actually worth listening/watching. It comes as no surprise that the newspaper behind these allegations is the Times. (Prop. R. Murdoch, certainly no friend of the BBC)

The worst thing about this is that John Humphrys was not only telling the truth mostly, he always speaking his mind, which is one of the things few politicians actually decide to do very often. John Prescott does mangle his words, and is occasionally incomprehensible. He himself admits so. Robin Cook on an appearance on Newsnight before the start of the war against Iraq defended the government position when it was clear shortly afterwards that he had been against the conflict from the very beginning, clearly an example of how ministers follow the party line when they disagree, as Humphrys states. Gordon Brown is depicted as being dry and wallowing in self-pity, as many politicians have in the past always said. The now infamous Andrew Gilligan report about "sexing up" the weapons dossier, along with the fourty-five minute claim, have now despite the Hutton report lambasting the BBC, been shown to almost completely correct. Finally, who wouldn't make fun of Cherie and Tony Blair's excruciating interview in the Sun (Prop. R. Murdoch.) just before the election when she claimed that they had sex five times a night and that he had a great physique? Both Private Eye and the Guardian had huge fun with it.

Pretty much all of these supposedly 'scathing' and 'inflammatory' remarks are old news or been made numerous times before. So why now have these remarks been so well publicised? While the silly season is drawing to a close, it's not like we've had no news worth reporting. I seem to remember there being some extreme weather in America that may have killed some people. Apart from that, I'm also suspicious of this being in the Times. There have been reports that Channel 4 might end up turning to Sky News for its news bulletins, as Channel 5 already has. That would leave ITV with its often execrable ITN coverage, and the BBC with its usually fine coverage. In other words, it seems to me as if Sky (Prop. R. Murdoch.) is already going on the offensive. If it wasn't for Ofcom's rules on impartiality, Murdoch would have already transformed Sky News into a British version of Fox.

John Humphrys isn't completely spotless, it has to be said. He has a large amount of shares in YouGov, the internet polling company which has suspiciously often led broadcasts on the Today programme. He often also takes large fees for corporate speaking. Aside from that though, he's one of the few in the television/radio journalism section of the media that is prepared to fight through the spin. The attack on him is typical not only of the way New Labour is becoming increasingly intolerant of mainstream criticism, but also of the way, post-Hutton, that the BBC has decided to roll over and play dead when invective is thrown against it.

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