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Liars, cheats and desperadoes

October 2, 2010

Remember the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross affair?

Two years after the near-unstoppable juggernaut uncerominiously dumped a stand-up comedian, a TV presenter and a BBC controller on the side of the road as a result of a foolhardy comment, foolhardy risk-taking and sufficient negative interest intent on whipping up as much negativity as befitted its agenda, the man at the focus of the whole thing turns up in an interview with Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman.

I anticipated this 19 minutes being a slightly painful affair. I figured Russell Brand would – inadvertently highlight the chasm between generations. Paxman would show his age, surely. He would show himself up. He didn’t. Not only that, Brand succeeded in showing his true self – an image considerably different than the nay-sayers would have the mainstream believe.

It’s a candid, good-humoured and thought-provoking interview. It’s reassuring to watch too. I remember a couple of years ago how that sorry episode felt as a BBC staffer. On first hearing the story there was the inevitable ‘What would I have done if I’d been the producer?’ Listening to the clip saw objectivity fly out of the window and pointing the finger feel both easy and unequivocal. There was someone responsible. It shouldn’t have happened. We shouldn’t be in this position. And … it’s all getting a wee bit tiresome this waking up and reading the newspapers full of this crap. I was working in Liverpool the weekend it all really blew up. It felt embarrassing and humiliating and – ultimately – unnecessary.

The context Brand eloquently and sincerely in his interview with Paxman brings the whole thing into perspective. It was an accident. One which during the course of the show they tried to apologise for but which in the process of reporting on it was used as ammunition against the host of the radio show.

Brand’s not done too badly. In fact, seeing him momentarily reunited with Paxman and watching him as he fingers his way through the compliance procedure that blip in broadcasting history brought about is funny. It also brings that piece of bureaucracy into perspective and – inevitably and perhaps even justifiably – makes light of it too.

In the Paxman / Brand interview, those who felt that rather strange few weeks keenly now feel the boil lanced. We see it for what it is and hope others do too.

Elsewhere today, on the Guardian website, Jon Ronson interviews another – lesser talked about, it has to be said – ‘player’ in BBC history, journalist Ray Gosling.

Gosling recorded a sequence for the show Inside Out in the East Midlands in which he stated he had assisted the death of his former lover who was dying from AIDS. He then went on BBC Breakfast to say the same thing. The police were – understandably – keen to find out the detail and later discovered that he hadn’t assisted the death of his former lover but had in fact been reporting on a football match in France. A charge of wasting police time has been served. No surprises there.

The Guardian piece is another revealing piece. And for the sake of this blog post I’m going to assume that everything in it is true. (If you think I’m being overly cynical please bear in mind there’s a moment in Ronson’s piece in which Gosling admits that what he’s just told the Guardian journalist is fabricated – leaves you wondering where the truth ends and the lies begin).

Gosling states that ‘he just did it’. He asked his cameraman to put the tripod down and film his 40 second, one-take piece to camera. It’s that piece to camera which contains the lie. His get-out ? That no-one really would know any different because it wasn’t something for the national network.

It’s difficult to square off. Not least because in Ronson’s written piece (and in video) Gosling gets progressively more drunk. He looks a state. So much so that I can’t help thinking like Ronson writes, that the man is on self-destruct. That makes me feel sorry, but it also makes me feel quite angry.

Because for those with talent, vision and energy, the idea that it would be acceptable to achieve their goals by producing something which might be factually inaccurate is anathema. If the journalist says it’s the truth to the camera or to the editor, then how are we to know any different? Whose responsibility is it to triple-source the journalist?

Guardian journalist Jon Ronson should also have his share of the spotlight however. His write up makes clear at the top of the piece that he had admired Gosling. When I read the piece (and in fairness I read it first before I watched the embedded video) I felt sorry for Ronson. But when I watched the embedded video there were moments during their exchanges when I wondered whether it was all a bit of an in-joke. Like I was meant to think that all the cool kids in the playground thought it was a cool to see the subversive humour in Gosling’s actions.

The long and the short of both of these incidents – that’s what they are – is that no one really has been harmed. Andrew Sachs sensibilities might have been, but really and truly we all know that if we bumped into the man and asked him he’d snigger and say it wasn’t such a big deal. Ray Gosling’s former lover was going to die anyway. Ray Gosling didn’t assist with his death. Noone has actually been harmed. What’s the big deal?

It shouldn’t matter but it does. There are things which are – and absolutely have to be – taken on trust. And if you abuse that trust you’re finished. Like Ray Gosling, Russell Brand made a mistake. The only difference is Brand is repentant.

The picture above was published by Flickr User I-Diom and is used here in accordance with the Creative Commons License.

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