“I think the Foreign Secretary missed..”

Mick’s modest encomium to Charles Wheeler is on Brassneck and Brian’s personal recollection of the man and journalist is here. Jeremy Paxman provided his own tribute to the “sometimes irascible, inherently honest” Charles Wheeler for Newsnight. Part 2 is here and below the fold. Adds Radio 4’s tribute to Charles Wheeler – In his own words is available here [Realplayer file].
Here’s the second part of Jeremy Paxman’s tribute

Mick picked up on an important point in Martin Bell’s CommentisFree post

“In the 1960s, when he and Gerald Priestland ran the BBC’s Washington bureau (always an uneasy partnership), TV news was still in its infancy. Wheeler helped it grow up. His reports on the civil rights movement in the south were models of their kind, but also extremely bold. He broke away from the “on the one hand this and on the other hand that” traditions of BBC reporting. If he felt that something was wrong, he found a way of saying so. I was told that some of his work drew sharp intakes of breath from the senior managers of the time, for they had no taste for controversial journalism, but to their credit they let him get on with it.”

As Mick goes on to say

In fact, it’s not a problem that the BBC has quite got over to this day. Indeed, the Producers’ guidelines forbid it. Wheeler was exceptional in his time, and remains so to this day. I’m not sure whether or not Wheeler ever approved of Bell’s own model of ‘journalism of attachment’ either. But I would doubt it.

Wheeler’s approach was closer to how Oliver Kamm described the essence of good journalism on his blog a few years back. It should seek to:

..describe the world as accurately as he is able, aware of the partiality of his information and his personal bias, but determined not to abridge the truth so as to avoid offending sensibilities.


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  • Rory

    The BBC Radio 4 tribute to Wheeler is being broadcast now as I write.

  • Pete Baker

    Superb moment in the Radio 4 tribute just now, Rory.

    In response to Jeremy Paxman’s questioning whether he had crossed a line in his reporting, Charles Wheeler said,

    “Which line did I cross? Did I see too much, or did I think too much?”

  • Rory

    Yes. I was just about to post “For God’s sake listen to this”. It’s absolutely riveting – Paxman’s attempt to skewer Wheeler on his lack of objectivity and Wheeler alternatively denying and then defending it. Bloody marvellous!

  • Pete Baker

    Hopefully Radio 4 will archive it. I’ll add a link when they do.

  • Brian Walker

    Just a word about Martin Bell’s “journalism of engagement”, referred to by Pete and Mick. That came towards the end of Bell’s career after he was shot in Bosnia. His approach was not in fact so very different from Wheeler’s, when he was reporting massacres the West were doing nothing to stop. Charles, reporting similar Western indifference to Kurdish killings in Iraq, just got on with it. He discusses the impact of those reports in the radio programme.

    Unlike Bell in Bosnia, who was also complaining that the BBC were sanatising the pictures, he was reluctant to analyse his own work, as the tribute programmes reveal.

    Bell was in many ways, Wheeler’s natural successor, as he was his literal successor in the US, for the denouement of Watergate.

    All this is very “in” but it may interest those who are interested in journalism and its influence, real or imagined.

  • willis

    “A man clearly too honest for an age of autocue and hair gel”

  • Ulsters my homeland

    The Queen looked as scared as the animals.

  • Rory

    That is because, as our youthful reading informed us, only ever Sheena was rightful Queen of the Jungle, Ulster’s My Homeland.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    The “journalism of attachment” led to Saint Maggie O’Kane demanding air strikes against the Serbs in the ’92 Yugoslavian War in a Guardian article. I asked her should journalists attach themselves to sides in the conflict here and should they demand military action – by whatever side. She was flummoxed. A hack demanding air strikes? The journalism of self-important arrogance, I think.