Media managers suffer from delusions of omnipotence. They think that if they kill a story it stays in the grave. They do not understand that if witnesses talk to one journalist they will talk to others if their story is ignored. ITV broadcast the testimony of women who said that Savile had abused them when they were girls on BBC premises and at a children's home. By early last month, the police had 130 lines of inquiry, and Liz MacKean had taken redundancy from the BBC. The excuses Newsnight offered look cowardly in retrospect and must have seemed pathetic to MacKean and her colleagues at the time. You have ten independent source — ten! — and still you keep quiet.
In case you think I am BBC-baiting, I should add that at least the BBC allows challenges to its hierarchy. After the Savile scandal broke, George Entwistle had to go on the Today programme, whose presenters are never happier than when they can tear their managers apart on live radio. When Entwistle implied that the editor of Newsnight had no need to worry about his bosses circling over him like glassy-eyed crows, Evan Davis did what any sensible person would have done and burst out laughing.
Consider how rarely such laughter is heard. One of the least explored aspects of free speech in Western societies is the power of employers to enforce silence. Citizens can go on television — on Newsnight, if you wish — and denounce their politicians. The secret police do not come for them. Yet if they criticise their employers they can expect their managers to demote or fire them. After the great crash of 2007-08, we ought to understand the importance of plain talking in the workplace. Insiders at NatWest knew that Fred Goodwin was leading his bank to ruin. HBOS fired its own risk manager for saying that its habit of giving mortgages to anyone with a pulse was insanely risky. But it is still taken as a given that employees who speak out against public or private bureaucracies have no one to blame but themselves if their career suffers. Confusion persists between the interests of managers — who want to protect their status by silencing criticism — and the interests of organisations, and the shareholders or taxpayers who fund them, which need the freedom to scrutinise rent-seeking or incompetent managers.