Why David Starkey’s career will get better
I must apologise before I start – this is pure Grumble territory. Forget the upbeat bits, this is depressing me as much as all the rest of the news. Last night, the BBC hosted historian David Starkey on Newsnight, during which he made various patently racist statements, which can be viewed here. That the BBC has cut out the segment and made it available should hint at how they’re feeling about it all.
The Director General of the BBC made a comment some time ago about wanting other news channels to be able to show bias. He said this would add to the credibility of the BBC’s own news productions by making it clear how moderate they are. What he really meant to say was that people would feel more happy accepting soft right wing bias on the BBC if it appeared more reasonable than the competition.
And its exactly that concept of competition that makes this all rather depressingly headed for a resurgence in Starkey’s career. Whether or not the BBC agree with his messages last night, he did exactly what they wanted him to: drive visitors to their website, get a Trending Topic on twitter and shut out all discussion of other media outlets. Its a big win for the BBC. If it wasn’t, why make the segment with the horrifying comments so easy to find?
Just as so many other people found out a long time ago, the BBC is finally adjusting to a realisation that “shock sells”. In this sense, they don’t actually care that everyone disagrees with David Starkey, they want everyone to discuss David Starkey. Its a bit like Big Brother (the TV show), where people tune in to see the actions of housemates they dislike far more than the actions of housemates they like. I know this full well, too: blog stats often reflect how much people disagree with you rather than how much they agree, even if people mostly share things they see positively.
Sadly, this is exactly the logic which brought Nick Griffin on to Question Time, a show many saw as uninteresting. Suddenly, everyone is talking about it. The show itself became a number one talking point on twitter, with half the panel in the Trending Topics list for the UK, if not the World. Getting people to almost-riot outside the gates of Television Centre was a pretty cool move on their part.
But this is exactly the problem: no longer does the quality of a person’s analysis matter in an objective, academic way. Its all about how much they get people talking afterwards. And thus, whilst almost every single academic in the relevant field despises David Starkey, he’ll be invited on more TV shows than they will, because they have the professionalism not to compromise. Same, it has to be said, though for very different reasons, for Richard Dawkins, AC Grayling and various other celebrities. After all, you can’t be a media whore and spend the required amount of time in the anonymity of your study being an academic.
So sadly, we’ll be seeing a lot more of David Starkey. For the BBC and their warped perspective, he’s just too good to lose. Everyone shouting him down has made him a twitter topic in his own right, and he’s become even bigger capital. Far from the BBC being racist, they’re just opportunistic. Sadly, this is what we now consider to be the hallmark of a “successful” media outlet. I think we’re meant to congratulate them. I certainly won’t.