Many commentators evinced shocked surprise at the ineptitude displayed by the BBC in its handling of the fallout from that phone call. But for anyone familiar with the inner workings of the Corporation, its spavined response to the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand outrage was entirely predictable. For the BBC has for decades groomed a generation of invertebrate managers and the comedians inadvertently presented them with the kind of issue they are least equipped to deal with: they were put on the spot and asked to make a moral judgment. A moral judgment! How cruel to demand such a thing from men and women who have made careers out of avoiding such dilemmas.
But, paradoxically, as things turned out, it could be that in those two trash culture exemplars, Ross and Brand, the BBC and its Director-General, Mark Thompson, have been presented with the perfect opportunity to sluice out the stables.
For one upshot of the affair is the way that Thompson's internal standing and authority have been enhanced. Strikingly, it wasn't until he rushed hotfoot back from his holiday that any semblance of order was restored. His prompt and unequivocal statement condemning the two performers stilled the rising sense of panic in the Corporation's upper echelons. His stock has risen.
To understand how the BBC came to be in such a mess, it is necessary to look at its day-to-day operation. For any new recruit to the Corporation, it can come as something of a surprise to find how much responsibility can be foisted on inexperienced shoulders. A young producer can find herself talking to very prominent people and making instant decisions about who should and who should not be put on air. That involves a lot of trust. There is a safeguard, of course, and it can be summarised in six words: "when in doubt, refer it up."