Maybe I’m just another hypocritical contrarian, but was Andrew Neil’s ‘take down’ of Ben Shapiro worthy of universal praise? My thoughts on *that* interview.

Andrew Neil takes down Ben Shapiro on BBC Politics Live

Let’s hope BBC Politics presenter Andrew Neil can accommodate the enormous clouds of smoke blown up his voluminous derriere by the entire Western media establishment yesterday.

Not since Jesus kicked the money lenders out of the temple, or Martin Luther King Jr had a dream, have we witnessed such mass praise and deference from across the political spectrum.

Since the BBC announced the closure of his long running political shows This Week and The Daily Politics, and seeing as his career move to the USA didn’t work out first time round when he presented and edited a current affairs programme for Murdoch’s Fox in New York — which didn’t make it past the pilot episode — it seems Mr Neil can finally be congratulated for bagging a saintly and highly lucrative legacy.

If only all political journalists had the luxury of a team of research assistants to trawl through everything an interviewee has ever said or written… *adopts soft upper middle class Scottish accent*

“So, Mr Neil, which journalistic ethical code did you deploy when you referred to Pulitzer nominated journalist Carole Cadwalladr as the “mad cat woman from Simpsons, Karol Kodswallop”, and what, exactly, was the evidence to support your claim that Saddam Hussein would provide Al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction and had links to the 9/11 attacks?”

Of course, the political mediascape has undergone profound changes under Mr Neil’s watchful eye, not least in the way print and broadcast media has responded to the advent of social media and the rise of platforms like Youtube, and regarding these changes, it is not New Labour and Tony Blair’s use of ‘spin’ that was most influential, but rather David Cameron’s legacy that is most bountiful.

Never mind the tens of thousands of completely unnecessary austerity deaths, the multiple crises, the rising poverty and inequality, the collapse of public services, the failure to tackle the climate emergency, and never mind even Brexit, possibly Cameron’s greatest legacy is the reshaping of our publicly funded and globally respected national broadcaster into the most effective corporate propaganda machine the world has ever known, making Russia Today, Fox News, and China Central Television look like school projects by comparison.

The ease with which BBC news and politics shows have helped to reframe dangerously racist and/or misogynistic right wing bigots like Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees Mogg, and Nigel Farage into roguish, eccentric, anti-establishment household names, is astonishing — though perhaps unsurprising given the BBC is awash with known right wing presenters and editors of national news and politics shows, while nobody seems capable of naming more than a single current left wing one.

And now, following his “master class” interview with Ben Shapiro, Mr Neil has made his own not insignificant contribution to this noble tradition.

While Ben Shapiro was reasonably well known in the USA, in no small part due to his bestseller book “The Right Side of History” — an unusual title given that in 2014 he tweeted that the ‘right side of history’ “may be the most morally idiotic phrase of modern times” — outside of a few political anoraks in the UK, Shapiro was largely unheard of.

However, thanks to Mr Neil’s interview, and the decision to air it, taken by BBC Politics Live boss Rob Burley, Mr Shapiro now has the ‘global brand exposure’ that would otherwise have cost $millions — the kind of exposure that Trump so masterfully exploits through his ‘controversialism’.

Rob Burley was recently asked if he’d ever sanction an interview with Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka ex English Defence League leader & Islamophobe Tommy Robinson. He replied:

What you can’t do is mainstream it, in the sense that they don’t represent any significant number of people in terms of political support… you wouldn’t just throw them on your panel and have a little chat about something light”.

‘Light’, like a book perhaps?

Despite Mr Burley’s personal ‘reticence’ to give undeserved exposure to inflammatory and highly controversial bigots, the BBC’s insatiable appetite for contrarians apparently knows no bounds, and seemingly has no shame.

The 2011 riots across the UK? Get bigoted racist historian David Starkey on to blame “black culture”.

How to address the burning moral issues of our time? Get bigoted Islamophobe journalist Melanie Phillips and professional contrarian, ex revolutionary Communist and current Brexit Party candidate Claire Fox to address them.

How to sensitively explore why Labour’s black Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott received more than half of all online abuse directed at British female MPs in the run up to the 2017 General Election? Get bigoted racist flagship BBC news and politics show Today presenter John Humphreys to ask her “If I’m rude to you for being black, you’d survive: If I punched you in the nose, that would be an entirely different matter, wouldn’t it?”

And so we come to *that* interview.

A tsunami of objection on social media prior to broadcast of the pre-recorded interview was simply dismissed by editor Rob Burley with an instruction to just ‘listen to the interview’, and afterwards, a smug challenge to “hear again from all those who this morning condemned us for doing this interview, before they saw it”, was issued by Mr Neil himself, after he’d put Shapiro ‘back in his box’.

Except he didn’t put Shapiro ‘back in his box’. Not really.

While the interview was almost universally praised as being a measured and highly effective way of exposing and challenging bigoted views, it also undoubtedly had the effect of amplifying Shapiro’s personal brand, helping him to break out of the USA to become a truly global phenomenon, as well as swelling the ranks of increasingly well known inflammatory and bigoted right wing conspiracy extremists invited to air their dangerous and antiquated views on one of the world’s most respected & wide reaching broadcast platforms.

Shapiro now joins Alex Jones, Paul Joseph Watson, Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopoulos, our homegrown Katie Hopkins, Toby Young, Nigel Farage, ‘Tommy Robinson’, and many others who seek to give light to ideas firmly locked away since 1945 — ideas which attempt to normalise the demonization of already persecuted minorities, and which anyone with a rudimentary grasp of political history knows helped lead to the most grotesque chapter in human history.

Of course, I’m in no way suggesting there is anything remotely Hitleresque about these often small, often angry, often authoritarian, often nationalistic, and often damaged conspiracy theorist extremists who spout vile bigotry, who often scapegoat and negatively stereotype certain racial or religious minorities by suggesting they are defective, sinister, barbaric, or simply inferior, and should be removed for the greater good of the nation and the ‘indigenous’ population.

Finally, as recently as the beginning of last year, Ben Shapiro was relatively unknown, even in the USA. How do I know this? From an article in Mr Neil’s right wing Spectator magazine, which blew copious amounts of smoke up Mr Shapiro’s arse, and undoubtedly helped to increase his profile. It said:

“Consider Ben Shapiro. The conservative pundit has become known over the past decade for his whippet-fast intellect and fearless debating style. College campuses began to see protests whenever this young conservative speaker was promised to appear. Far-leftist students repeatedly denounced the 34-year-old kippah-wearing Orthodox Jew as a racist and otherwise tried to silence him. Campuses promised students extra counselling to cope after hearing his arguments. And last September, after earlier riots on campus, the University of Berkeley shelled out $600,000 to make the campus secure for his talk there. Again the audience tuned in for the scandal and stayed to hear his smart, funny and thoughtful opinions.”

But at the end of the day, isn’t this exactly what right wing, globalised, corporate free market capitalism is all about? Focus exclusively on the revenue streams, optimised by canny branding, push ideas that make harmful neoliberal parties and policies seem relatively benign, and just ignore any negative consequences?

So well done Mr Neil, well done Mr Burley, well done Mr Cameron, well done BBC, and well done global capitalism: I can’t wait for the ‘hot contrarian takes’ on the impending ecological apocalypse, not least as Mr Neil — like so many of the dangerously bigoted conspiracy theorist extremists I’ve mentioned — rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. And, if we’re really lucky, given the rise of the right wing extremism he and the BBC have helped bring to light, ‘hot takes’ on World War III.

Russ Jackson

Russ Jackson

Sociologist at Sheffield Hallam University. Views my own - informed by years of reading, thinking & listening.