MANDRAKE: My spat with the BBC's Jon Sopel over US election

BBC North America editor Jon Sopel

BBC North America editor Jon Sopel - Credit: BBC

Tim Walker on his Trump-inspired tiff with the BBC's man in Washington.

Tempers among BBC journalists were clearly frayed as their rolling coverage of the American election was unfavourably compared to CNN, which robustly called out Donald Trump's lies.

"What the f*** are you talking about, Tim?" the BBC's North America editor Jon Sopelpictured, responded when I suggested their coverage had been too credulous. "Where unsubstantiated claims have been made, we've said so. When we think something's untrue, we say so. Are you saying we shouldn't report his claims?"

Sopel saw as "astonishing" the fact that American broadcasters pulled away from live coverage of Trump's incendiary and dangerous comments about not accepting the results. "You're showing ignorance about American society and the deference for the office of the presidency," Sopel said, apparently failing to see that what was "astonishing" was what Trump had said, which challenged the American political system and seemed calculated to stir up unrest.

A colleague of Sopel told me: "Give Jon a break. We're under attack from all sides right now and morale is not great. Any news organisation is at its best and most confident when those in charge of it are backing its journalists to the hilt. That's not happening here."


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Sopel subsequently made fun of the BBC's obsession with balance himself when he responded to a tweet by his colleague Emily Maitlis in which she referenced a brand of confectionery. He responded: "BBC bosses will soon be telling us to say 'and other brands of confectionery are also available."

A Twitter poll I conducted which asked respondents to say whether they considered the BBC or CNN to have been more trustworthy when it came to reporting the American election attracted 3,466 votes. They came out in favour of CNN by 91%.

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There has been widespread criticism of the BBC's coverage with the Labour MP Chris Bryant calling it "clunky, hesitant and ill-informed" and the actress Sally Lindsay saying CNN's reporting had been "exemplary." She added: "Wouldn't it be fantastic if our s*** show of a government got the same treatment."


War footing

I've already noted that, with Boris Johnson's grip on power loosening, Michael Gove has been quietly building up his war chest with £65,000-worth of "support" donations coming his way from, among others, Lord Harris of Peckham, who chipped in £35,000.

Now, intriguingly, his old rival Jeremy Hunt has just accepted a donation of £15,000 from the energy company Aquind, where Alexander Temerko sits on the board. The businessman, born in Soviet Ukraine, backed Hunt in last year's Tory leadership campaign, when he'd reportedly said that the difference between his choice and Boris Johnson was "populism" versus "professionalism".

Temerko has donated more than £1.3 million to the Conservative Party over the years. His current project is laying an undersea electric power link between Britain and France.


Waiting game

Mandrake was looking forward to the spectacle of Evgeny Lebedev - the son of a former KGB agent and owner of the London Evening Standard -  posing in his ermine after being formally introduced in the House of Lords. Oddly, even though most of Boris Johnson's cronies on his controversial honours list have now gone through the ceremony, Lebedev remains unadorned.

"One possible reason for the delay might be that I guess his outside interests are quite complex and the Lords have become sticklers for these to be disclosed in full and to their satisfaction," one member of the Upper House tells me. "I can't imagine any other reason why it's taking so long as the honour was, after all, announced way back in July."


Get knitted

Pat Wilson understands better than most how politicians can be puppets. The keen knitter from Deal in Kent has been immortalising politicians in thread for as long as I can remember and she's quite literally come up trumps for the American election. "I think if anything I've been a bit too flattering when it comes to Donald," she tells me of her latest creation, pictured. "He'd really love to have all that hair and for it to be so firmly fixed to his head." 

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