It is odd to think of the BBC as a victim of bullying. It is by far the largest and best-funded child in the playground, should be afforded the protection of the headmaster (though it rarely is), and consistently hands in top work. But, of course, in the pathology of the playground, this makes it a natural victim. And the fact that it consistently takes a mea culpa position rather than punching back only makes the problem worse. Come on, Beeb, the circling bullies chant. Have a go if you think you’re hard enough.
Like many victims of bullying, it simply doesn’t know how to respond to such goading. Mostly, it demurs. Occasionally, it tries to bite back. And inevitably this misfires.
So when Ceri Thomas stepped up to say that the students who accompanied John Sweeney on the trip to North Korea had all given their consent, he must have been aware he was likely to be challenged. The BBC’s Today programme didn’t take long to get stuck in; when asked how he could be sure this was the case (students were briefed individually, without witnesses, and signed no consent document) he blustered: it doesn’t matter whether it was done orally or in writing, he said. Because of the lack of evidence, of course, it matters enormously. The corporation’s detractors will pick away at these bones, and there are at least some of the LSE students who are willing to undermine Thomas’s version of events.