“We must stop normalizing the absurd,” British journalist and author Emily Maitlis urged her colleagues on Wednesday at the Edinburgh Television Festival.
Delivering the festival’s prestigious James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture, the former BBC journalist and journalist said that when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, “we didn’t understand yet that it was not necessary to replace this person with someone else.” different, but rather a set of rules with others.” She added: “We didn’t realize that we would have to change, too.”
Maitlis, who rose to international fame following a famous 2019 interview with Prince Andrew for British public broadcaster BBC, who became a factor in the royal’s fall from grace, said she calls her lecture “The Boiled Frog: Why We Must Stop Normalizing the Absurd,” “Because” we are becoming fascinated by the increasing temperatures in which the facts are lost, constitutional norms are trashed, claims are often unchallenged. ”
Maitlis argues that “this surreal summer is a prime example,” arguing that there is a “complete disconnect between dire warnings about energy bills and food that are hurting masses of people.” people in this country” and the “vacuum circus without electricity” since the decision by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down from his role in early September. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the favorite to succeed Johnson, is facing off against former Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
“We have heard – not once but twice from the frontrunners – that a policy idea has been ‘misunderstood by the media’ and that – what I like best – a question is posed in a ‘wrong way’. leftist’,” said the journalist. “We then saw the same candidate being caught privately apologizing to a presenter for attacking the media, as if it were a comment. It’s more of a tactless argument about his tie than a staple of our democracy. We only know because it was caught on a hot mic. That conversation should have been said.”
Maitlis concludes: “This is not normal. Or rather, it shouldn’t. Things that for decades have been bestowed – checks and balances on the executive, the role of the judiciary or the civil service, a media free from interference or defamation – now This seems to be vulnerable. We are seeing politicians move in directions that are profoundly and clearly harmful to basic democratic governance.”
Maitlis later recounted how Trump agreed to CBS reporter Lesley Stahl on the campaign trail with the excuse of “constantly attacking the press”. Quoting Stahl, she reads: “He said, ‘You know why I did that? I do it to discredit you all and bring you all down so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you’.
Maitlis’ conclusion: “In other words, the greater the distance that populists can create between recognizable media sources and the public, the less they will be impeded by any interference surveillance, any attempt to hold them accountable for the decisions they make while in power. Just last week, Liz Truss told GB News presenter (partisan debate): ‘It’s not the BBC – you really get your facts.’ It was an artful bit of flattery, which she used to evade a challenging question. “
Maitlis also says of journalists, especially at public broadcasters, that, “sometimes, we tie ourselves to knots about the balance of ‘bilateralism’.” She referring to his experience of an interview with Robert De Niro at the height of COVID about New York state after being hit hard by the pandemic. De Niro clearly had other things on his mind than New York,” she recalls. “He wanted to be angry about President Trump’s improper handling of the pandemic. It didn’t care how many people died. It was – according to the context – three weeks after Trump held the famous ‘bleach’ press conference where he allegedly suggested using disinfectants to fight COVID inside the body. “
So the actor told Maitlis: “It’s scary because everyone is surprised and stunned by what Trump is doing. … You have a lunatic saying things that everyone is trying to jump around – that’s horrible. “
Her then-editor urged her to “just like his editorial work, put another side of it,” Maitlis recalls. “But I am against it because – quite frankly – what is the other side? Did I say, ‘Nonsense, bleach might work – we won’t know until we try!’ Or do I pretend he didn’t mention the disinfectant when it was on the tape? Or do I say, ‘You’re only saying that because you’re a liberal left-wing Democrat,’ which doesn’t seem to capture the gravity of the moment. ”
As an attempt to push back, she said: “Trump’s fan base is going to have a problem with that.” But De Niro beat that. “The reason I’m telling this is not for the exchange, but for what happened next,” Maitlis said. “We wrap up the pre-recorded interview; Adam Cumiskey is the output editor and he is a big movie buff. But as we were moving up in the elevator, I turned to Adam and said, ‘We can’t work this out. It’s too anti-Trump. ‘ Adam looked at me to see if I was joking. And I do not. I am appalled that by giving the interview as it is, we will be seen as biased. “Then why can’t I let him say it without trying to find an equally world-famous actor who that night will magically say the opposite to us.” Maitlis wondered.
Her conclusion: “It shows once again how powerful accusations of populist bias even have on the brains of journalists – so much so that we censor them. own interviews to avoid backlash.”
The basis for this story is the interview De Niro was made. Perhaps with my objection to “but-his-fanbase” is more than necessary. And the sky does not fall. Adam, at least, was very happy. And the news stream was well received around the world. But now it’s curious to look back at our reaction to what happened two weeks later.
Maitlis, also known for her 2019 book Airhead: The art of creating imperfect news, left the BBC earlier in 2022 to sign a contract with radio company Global. At the BBC, she was the host of BBC Two’s flagship program on news and current affairs Night until the end of 2021.
Maitlis said before her appearance: “The need to hold power without fear or favor is more urgent than ever. “We are very good at documenting the censorship and intimidation of journalists around the world. But sometimes we’re too slow to realize how and when it plays out in more subtle, family-friendly ways. In many places, political actors, their communication styles, and their relationship to truth have changed.”
The interview that Maitlis will forever stick to is hers exclusively for Prince Andrew for Night, in which he spoke publicly about his connection to Jeffrey Epstein for the first time. The interview, later described as “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, causing a nuclear explosion,” is being adapted for the screen by rival projects. Writer Peter Moffat and the production team behind Luther is developing a feature based on Scoopa book of the former Night producer Sam McAlister. Meanwhile, Maitlis herself is said to be involved in a project with Blueprint Pictures, the company behind A very English scandal and A very British scandal.
“I apologize to anyone who thought this was about Prince Andrew’s interview,” Maitlis said during the Lecture at MacTaggart on Wednesday. “That will have to wait until next time.”
Maitlis’ speech closed the first day of this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, which returns with a live event after two years of virtual events due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Previous MacTaggart lectures have been given by Rupert, James and Elisabeth Murdoch, Vice’s Shane Smith, Michaela Coel, Armando Iannucci, Kevin Spacey, Ted Turner, Norman Lear and last year, writer Jack Thorne.