The Lineker rules
The right-wing press has failed to score in the latest game but the BBC is still being beaten daily.
Previously: Orwell Statue Collapse
Tim Davie has lost the dressing room at the BBC; it was inevitable that the corporation’s Tory leadership would fold to the pressure from right-wing papers.
If Michael was at the point, we forced him left and doubled him. If he was on the left wing, we went immediately to a double team from the top. If he was on the right wing, we went to a slow double team. He could hurt you equally from either wing—hell, he could hurt you from the hot-dog stand—but we just wanted to vary the look. And if he was on the box, we doubled with a big guy. The other rule was, any time he went by you, you had to nail him. If he was coming off a screen, nail him. We didn't want to be dirty—I know some people thought we were—but we had to make contact and be very physical.
— Chuck Daly explaining ‘the Jordan Rules’ to Sports Illustrated in 2007.
After Michael Jordan scored 59 points on Daly’s ‘Bad Boy’ Detroit Pistons team in April 1988, the coach and his assistants, Ron Rothstein and the excellently-named Dick Versace, developed ‘the Jordan Rules’: a set of principles to physically dominate and shut him down. They worked — the Pistons defeated the Chicago Bulls in the 1988, 1989, and 1990 playoff finals — until they didn’t.
Jordan got physically stronger and the Bulls under Phil Jackson implemented Tex Winter’s triangle offence, which freed the team from being reliant on one player’s game-changing performances. The Bulls were no longer going to be what the Pistons villainous center Bill Laimbeer called, “Michael Jordan and the Jordanaires.”
If the Jordan Rules were about literally pushing ‘Black Jesus’to the left, what I might call The Lineker Rules are about further shoulder-charging the BBC to the right, as self-styled free speech warriors push to have the football presenter not just suspended but fired. This weekend, the massed ranks of BBC Sport’s hosts, pundits, and columnists executed their own version of the triangle defence; with the strength of solidarity, they forced a climbdown.
The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Sun, The Daily Express, the massed ranks of idiot quote-spewing backbench Tories and supine Labour shadow cabinet members (until they detected the wind changing) have lost this game but they haven’t lost the series or even the championship to come. Tim Davie has still lost the dressing room — the consensus in the BBC’s newsrooms is that he bungled the ‘crisis’ ginned up by the papers and Tory MPs — and the decision to ‘review’ the corporation’s social media guidelines again is just kicking an already battered can down the road for the umpteenth time.
Every single utterance made by Lineker and other BBC personalities anywhere left of Benito Mussolini — shit, made a comparison to the thirties again — will be subjected to even greater microscopic attention from the hacks of the Murdoch, Rothermere, Barclay, and Reach stables. What referees there are in this game are crooked; Richard Sharp remains on the BBC board, Davie is still BBC DG and Rishi Sunak’s government may have pantomimed concern and distance but it will absolutely turn the public broadcaster into a punching bag come election time.
The tantrumming tabloids and (tabloid) broadsheets got dunked on this time because they were going up against a huge personality in Lineker. It happens to be the case that I agree with his political position this time but it’s a problem that for a non-news contributor at the BBC to have their speech protected requires a profile (and salary) as large as the one Lineker has. He had the resources and friends to take the pounds of pressure applied by the press and bureaucracy; a younger, less longstanding and financially secure contractor would not have been able to do that nor would they have received such easy solidarity.
Richard Osman, the creator and former presenter of Pointless, who still hosts House of Games for the BBC, tweeted sarcastically/sardonically:
Now I'm allowed to tweet anything without being fired, I can finally say it. Pickled Onion is not the best Monster Munch flavour. Roast Beef is.
But his former colleague and university friend, Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong has been making political statements for years. In 2012, he told The Independent…
I'd like people to be honest about what they don't like about country sports because if it's actually the people you don't like, then I'd much rather they would actually just say that.
… and has frequently appeared in publicity material for the Countryside Alliance pressure group. In 2014, he was among the signatories to an open letter to The Guardian arguing that Scotland should vote ‘remain’ in that year’s independence referendum. In 2021, he gave an interview to the Telegraph wittering on about “cancel culture”, praising his old friend Dominic Cummings (who is married to his second cousin Mary Wakefield, The Spectator journalist), and rage that Britain’s “institutions are spineless”. He might have been talking about the BBC, where Lineker’s tweet was a big deal, but Armstrong’s positions — which the right-wing press generally agrees with — are just “common sense”.
While the opportunist, celeb-slurping Piers Morgan — host of Piers Morgan Unwatched on TalkTV, Rupert Murdoch’s biggest folly since he bought MySpace — tweeted…
Gary Lineker and Free Speech 1 - BBC and Cancel Culture 0.
… ex-BBC News exec and David Cameron’s Downing Street comms chief, Sir Craig Oliver, told BBC News (keeping the circle jerk going):
I think what’s happened here is Gary Lineker: 1 — BBC Credibility: Nil
The reality is the BBC today has announced it will have a review of its social media guidelines. In fact, it needs a review of how it handles crises like these.
In 2020, the BBC had Richard Sambrook — a former director of global news at the BBC, now director of journalism at Cardiff University — review its guidelines on how staff and contributors use social media. That work ended up concluding that freelancers who don’t work in the news and current affairs divisions are not governed by the same restrictions on social media use.
But! The corporation attempted to shoehorn in a ‘Lineker Clause’ (or perhaps a Lineker Rule) which says:
Others who are not journalists or involved in factual programming nevertheless have an additional responsibility to the BBC because of their profile on the BBC.
It, combined with a clause that says high-profile presenters should “avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies”, was an attempt to tie up all employees and contractors in the policy. It clearly hasn’t worked. There are some commentators on the pitch; BBC Director General, Tim Davie, thinks it’s all over. It isn’t remotely.
Davie ended his simpering statement today by saying:
[Gary Lineker has] agreed to abide by the [current social media] guidance while the independent review takes place.
Shortly afterwards, Lineker tweeted:
However difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.
There is no chance that the papers are going to take the pressure off the BBC; everything Lineker says and does will be turned into a story. Meanwhile, inside the corporation staff are demoralised, irritated, and angry with the bosses once again. As ex-BBC journalist Jon Sopel said on the LBC podcast, The News Agents — which his co-host Emily Maitlis helped trail with a speech battering the BBC — “[the corporation] has managed to piss absolutely everybody off without exception”.
The solidarity walkouts over the weekend are minor compared to what the BBC will face on Wednesday when hundreds of journalists across England will strike to protest cuts to local radio and plans to increase ‘programme sharing’ between stations; a campaign of vandalism to further undermine the value of the BBC’s regional radio output. The 24-hour strike begins at 11 am on Budget Day.
In The Sun this morning, Trevor ‘the Muslim problem’ Kavanagh, wrote that “Gary Lineker does not speak for the nation” and raged that, “Lineker [needed] to show humility and apologise” A YouGov poll this afternoon suggested that 57% of people felt the BBC was right to reinstate Lineker (41% among Tory voters, 79% among Labour voters).
The rhetoric from right-wing papers, their columnists, and the gaggle of quote-vomiting Tory backbench grotesques is now shifting from the specific [Lineker and his tweet(s)] — to the general [the licence fee and the continued existence of the BBC]. On GB News, its recent signing, Jacob Rees-Mogg, a stumbling striker whose been losing a yard of pace with every passing year since his debut in 1890, opined:
The issue is about the BBC rather than about Gary Lineker’s view. He’s entitled to any view that he wants. We are all in favour of freedom of speech and people being allowed to say things that we don’t agree with, or may even find offensive. And that’s absolutely fine. The issue is that the BBC is the state broadcaster, and that it’s funded by a tax on televisions. If it weren’t, then we wouldn’t need to worry about its impartiality and actually if we changed the funding mechanism of the BBC, we could have a much freer media, as they do in the United States, when people are allowed to say what they think.
As usual with Rees-Mogg there is a mix of lies, elisions, and bullshit tarted up with clumsily tied rhetorical bows in there. The BBC is not a state broadcaster but a public service broadcaster; America does not have “a much freer media” — as the Dominion lawsuit and the attendant depositions from Rupert Murdoch make clear — and the TV licence is not “a tax on televisions”.
But it doesn’t matter whether what Rees-Mogg says is true; it matters whether his points appeal to his core audiences: fellow ghoulish Tory MPs and the rage-addict viewers of GB News. Aristotle talked of logos (reason), pathos (emotion) and ethos (authority). As Mehdi Hasan puts it in his new book How to Win Every Argument:
The reality is that pathos beats logos almost every time.
There’s a whole lot of pathos flying around in the response to the Lineker ‘crisis’ with the columnists leaning on their masthead-acquired ethos while they’re at it.
At The Spectator, former Express hack turned UKIP MEP turned SDP also-ran who was nearly beaten by the Monster Raving Looney Party, Patrick O’Flynn, writes that:
The cultural Left has won this skirmish hands down. No BBC boss will ever dare to stand in the way of Lineker’s juggernaut brand again. And the two ‘Tories’ at the top of the Corporation (Davie once stood as a Conservative candidate) are so much roadkill under its tyres. What, though of the licence fee – the idea that TV viewers must, under penalty of the criminal law, pay almost £160 a year to fund an organisation that will not defend its impartiality requirements against a cultural leftist onslaught? The case for any Conservatively-minded person defending it is now down to one based on the wilful suspension of disbelief required to be able to say that this is a unifying, trusted and impartial institution in British life that merits a quirky, illiberal and old-fashioned funding model. It isn’t. It’s gone.
Again, there’s that pivot back to the familiar attack on the licence fee and right-wing cry-wanking about the BBC being stacked against “conservatively-minded [people]”. That’s despite two Tories at the top of the organisation (Davie and the highly-conflicted BBC Chairman, Richard Sharp), the right-wing wrecking Robbie Gibb still on the BBC board and ample evidence that the right — including O’Flynn’s old pal Nigel Farage — is given a luxurious ride on the BBC’s political programming.
Over at The New Statesman, Andrew Marr — not long out of his comfy berth at the BBC — writes:
Of course, there are those in the Conservative Party who will try to continue their war against the BBC. But they would be ill-advised. It’s one thing to attack anonymous, “arrogant” BBC managers; it’s quite another to be responsible for mayhem in football, our strange national religion… … I worked inside the BBC for 21 years, then came out, and the experience has shown me conclusively that there are two separate realities. From the outside, the BBC really does seem vast, arrogant and metropolitan. From the inside, it feels mostly terrified, hemmed in on all sides by hostile rivals, and staffed by managers from the Midlands and north of England. It treats Tory ministers and the Daily Mail with the abject, flinching nervousness of an abused spouse. It is masochistically keen to magnify any of its own supposed failures. Individual reporters manage to keep their spines vertical, but that’s the wider, corporate truth.
The BBC is both arrogantly metropolitan and terrified of what Daily Mail headline writers and columnists will say about it. An excellent BBC reporter told me today that Davie’s decisions have “solved nothing” and yet the DG swaggers on with all the unearned confidence of the former Pepsi Co marketing man that he is.
At The Daily Mail — the paper with which the BBC has the most aftercare-free sub/dom relationship — the leader column today thundered:
The BBC’s reputation for impartiality has been tarnished in recent years by a steady shift towards the liberal Left. Bowing down to Lineker and his virtue-signalling chums would suggest the Corporation has given up trying to redress the balance.
Elsewhere, the Mail quotes Tory backbencher and close personal friend of the gambling industry Philip Davies, who says:
This pathetic capitulation by the BBC is the start of the end for the licence fee. His epitaph will read "Gary Lineker — the man who destroyed the BBC licence fee". This is a watershed moment. It is now inevitable that the licence fee will end - and it will end sooner than would otherwise have been the case because of Gary Lineker and his left-wing friends at the BBC. And for that we can rejoice. The BBC can no longer credibly claim that it believes in political impartiality and - more importantly - it has proved that it doesn't have the stomach to enforce it. It is now a free for all at the BBC.
Oddly, the Mail omits any mention of Davies’ side gig as a GB News presenter on a perpetual train crash of a show that he shares with his wife and fellow Tory MP, Esther McVey; imagine This Morning being broadcast from a nuclear bunker in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event.
A Match of the Day ‘review’ from The Times yesterday and Michael Deacon’s Telegraph column today share the same lazy joke: The programme was better without a presenter and pundits and hey, the viewing figures went up 500,000. Of course, neither notes that the extra half a million were effectively a ‘gawker bump’ as people tuned in to see what the bizarre music and commentary-free MoTD was actually like.
On Twitter, The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman offered a 10-point thread of fractal stupidity which began “Lineker: a few thoughts…” and provoked just one from me: Tim Shipman has never had an opinion that Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t devour in a single bite. Meanwhile, The Times leader column today concluded:
If Lineker wants to air his views in public let him find a private broadcaster willing to allow him to do so. He will no doubt get a big pay rise, and good luck to him. And he can take his protesting colleagues, some of whom can be best described as non-entities, with him. There will doubtless be plenty of viewers for a politicised “Gary Lineker Show”. It’s just that it should not be on the BBC.
It's a shame that the leader writers and their bruiser editor Tony Gallagher didn’t ask their recent star sports writer signing, Martin Samuel, who was poached from the Mail at the end of 2022, for his thoughts. Samuel’s piece over in the sports section is one of the best reflections on the Lineker ‘affair’; balanced, insightful, funny, and actually informed by an awareness of both football and the wider media. He writes:
A handy guide to the two sides in the Gary Lineker wars was published online this week. “Those who are opposed to Lineker's comments,” it read, “include Nigel Farage, Nadine Dorries, Suella Braverman and Lee Anderson.” Wow. Isn’t that a dinner party you’d fake your own death to avoid? … Of course Saturday’s viewing figures were up by 500,000 because everyone was rubber-necking to see how it looked, and the usual contrarians will say they preferred it and wished it was this way every week. But that argument is nonsense, because if that’s how you liked your football, that’s how you could consume it each Saturday. Once the last match is finished, so usually no later than 8pm, fans can get all the goals on their phone through Sky. And they’re naked. Just goals. No analysis, no talking heads, no Lineker. If all you want is football, you’ve already got it. Yet all the people praising the stripped-down Match of the Day are either unaware or not engaging with that minimalist service. So it’s a pose. Football without punditry has been around for years. Yet Match of the Day still commands the nation’s attention. Why? Because it’s an excellent product… … Lineker’s argument was about the use of words preceding the action and was actually quite nuanced. You might not believe that. You might believe that all footballers are thick and incapable of historical context and you’re right, some are. But some have degrees, or speak multiple languages, and many are urbane and insightful on an array of issues. Others drop their trousers in nightclubs. It’s a broad church. Just as public forums of debate should be in any nation that claims to have a free media.
Last week, in a notebook column for The Times, Samuel nailed the government in a single line:
If your new immigration strategy is so artfully constructed it needs protecting from a tweet by the bloke who presents Match of the Day, it might not be as clever as you think.
Perhaps he’ll be the next person to provoke a tantrum from Tory backbenchers. If I was them, I wouldn’t waste my time. Like Lineker, Samuel is a superstar in his field and that’s why The Times is showing such tolerance for his blunt views and how far outside the paper’s general editorial line they lie.
Joining Samuel up front is John Barnes, Lineker’s former England colleague, who offered the most clear-sighted, bullshit-free analysis over the weekend:
I am not supporting Gary Lineker because he was a brilliant player and my England teammate – I am supporting him because he’s right. Gary was not equating Britain to Nazi Germany. All he said – which is true – is that the language used towards the asylum seekers is similar to the language used by Germany in the 1930s. And he had the right to express his view on his personal Twitter account. The BBC can’t pick and choose when it wants to be impartial. It was OK for Gary to be critical of Qatar and its human rights record –yet it’s not OK for him to be critical of human rights issues in his own country. The truth is the BBC is crying about wrongdoing because they are frightened of the Government. If Gary had tweeted: “I really agree with Suella on this – what a brilliant policy,” do you think he’d have been sent packing? … This whole storm is perfect for the Government – and the BBC are playing into its hands. We are all now talking about Gary Lineker - not the cost of living crisis, not the striking nurses and teachers. The Tories are quite happy for this distraction.
It’s true: While backbenchers are raging (and getting lots of lovely time on TV and quotes in newspaper articles), Number 10 is delighted with the Lineker 'row’. It has established the BBC, put Lineker’s words higher up the agenda than the policy they were criticising, and refreshed the ‘debate’ about killing the licence fee or even privatising the BBC entirely. You can detect the glee in the words of Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson…
We're pleased that this situation has been resolved and that fans will be able to watch Match of the Day as normal this weekend. We were disappointed to see that language being used, but ultimately it's a matter between him and the BBC.
… and Number 10’s technically correct assertion that the Prime Minister cannot “have confidence” in Tim Davie because the appointment and dismissal of the DG is “a matter for the BBC”.
‘The Lineker Rules’ have failed this time but that will not stop the newspapers and rival TV channels from committing fouls against the BBC, on and off the ball, with ever-increasing frequency. A lot of people learned about The Jordan Rules in the documentary The Last Dance; the Tory Party and its media outriders have been battling for years to secure the BBC’s last dance; people celebrating now are foolish — the BBC bureaucracy is still destroying the corporation as the press and government cheer and hasten the process.
A win for Lineker is not a win for us all, even if the solidarity was admirable.
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After he scored 63 points in a single (still ultimately losing) game against the Celtics, Jordan became ‘Black Jesus’ thanks to Larry Bird’s line: “That was god disguised as Michael Jordan.”
A great read
Brilliant, as ever.