Two items on the same day were the quintessence of all that has gone wrong with BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme.
On the news summary at 6am on Tuesday February 4 there was a report that Hong Kong had seen its first death of a victim of the Chinese corona-virus, although the report concluded that, in fact, the 39 year old victim had a serious heart condition and had actually died from a heart attack.
When this item came up again at 7am the fact that the cause of death was more directly attributed to what much of the media referred to as “an underlying health condition” was dropped. Why?
Well, this was also being described as the second death from the virus outside of mainland China and it is hard not to come to the conclusion that dying from something else was not as good a story line and “why let the truth spoil a good story”.
Later on in the programme on a completely different subject, that of the strange goings on in Iowa surrounding the Democratic Leaders contest, the reporter was asked the question that is now de rigueur on the part of Today presenters – what will happen next?
The wonderful answer came back without hesitation:”I don’t know. I’m a correspondent, not a clairvoyant.”
If only the reporter had inserted a seven letter word beginning with F .before the last word in that sentence it would have been wonderful. although he would probably have been fired on the spot.
As it is, his somewhat exasperated response hopefully indicated that at least some of the Today staff are getting fed up with having to try to forecast the future rather than follow the very basis of good journalism, which is reporting what has actually happened rather than giving some fanciful prediction of what might happen.
Perhaps, with the resignation of Sarah Sands as Editor of Today, the one time flagship of BBC radio news will recover the prestige it used to enjoy.