Someone get this monkey off my back

I’ve had an addiction, for several years, that I have finally decided to kick. My friends have previously told me that it is no good for me; that any enjoyment I might get from it is no compensation for the way it tries to warp my mind; that it is destructive, and the best thing I can do is just walk away. Despite that, without it, I find it difficult to wake up and get myself out of bed.

But, finally, I’ve decided to go cold turkey on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

I’ve long been dissatisfied with some of the presenters – John Humphrys, in particular, who seems to think there can only possibly be two opposing viewpoints on any subject, and whose only interviewing technique is robust to the point of abusive. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years that Jim Naughtie has also caught this disease, and it was his interview with Transport Secretary Justine Greening that was the final straw.

Now I have no agenda here, I’ve heard of Ms Greening, but don’t know much about her, other than she is a Conservative MP in the coalition cabinet. But when asked to come on Today and speak about fellow conservative Tim Yeo’s recent comments on the perceived need for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, she was pretty clear of her position, and happy to state it, without prevarication. She is personally against a 3rd runway, as the constituency she represents would be affected, and it is also the government’s position that Heathrow 3 is not an option – that this is part of both the Conservative manifesto, the Liberal Democrat manifesto, and the position of the cabinet she sits on.

Ah, said Naughtie, but would she – could she – sit in a cabinet that approved a 3rd runway at Heathrow? She pointed out that is a meaningless question, as current government policy, the two coalition manifestos, *and* the prime minister himself all agreed that a 3rd Heathrow runway was out of the question. After being asked the same question several times, she finally conceded that this hypothetical situation would be difficult for her, but “I don’t think the question arises.”

This is a favourite Today technique. Rather than asking a politician about what is happening, or what has been said, ask them about something that they have said is not going to happen. “But if it did, minister, would you be able to remain in the cabinet?” If the minister answers to the affirmative, they are then portrayed as being without conviction. If they agree that it would be a deal breaker, Today has then “broken a story” – that the minister was “standing up” to Cameron. If they refuse to answer, then they are being “evasive”.

Naughtie then changed tack. Addressing the soon-expected consultation paper on nationwide airport capacity, and a “call for evidence”, he accused Greening of bias. Surely BAA would submit a case for a 3rd runway at Heathrow, once again, but Greening had clearly already made up her mind.

Again, this is a Catch-22 situation. Either she will be described as closed-minded and intransigent, or she is open to persuasion, without conviction, and shafting her constituents.

Whether you like Ms Greening or not, there is no correct way for her to answer this manner of questioning.

Does any of this matter, other than to those of us foolish enough to still listen to Today? Unfortunately it does, as Today no longer reports news, it makes news. To illustrate this, here are a selection of today’s headlines, quoting this very Today interview:

“Justine Greening would struggle as part of Government backing third Heathrow runway” – Independent.

“Transport Secretary threatens to resign over third runway at Heathrow” – Telegraph

“Justine Greening issues veiled warning to Government if third runway at Heathrow Airport gets go-ahead” – Evening Standard

None of the above are factual representations of what Greening’s position was. She issued no veiled warning, and definitely didn’t threaten to resign. They are all based on the corner that Naughtie backed her into, the hypothetical question that he repeatedly insisted that she answer.

I am somewhat relieved that the Guardian (my preferred newspaper, but far from perfect) reported the same interview as:

“Heathrow third runway ‘not a long-term solution'”

which was actually what Ms Greening was saying.

Does anyone know of an alternative morning UK news radio show, either broadcast or internet? I am aware of LBC, but they seem to be a little London-centric.

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