The BBC’s real crime over Jimmy Savile was to act like the Catholic church | Jonathan Freedland

Journalism isn't the issue here. It is that the corporation failed in its duty of care to those abused by its employee

There is a tide in the affairs of men and this one has gone in and out and back in again. The first wave brought horror at the alleged crimes of Jimmy Savile, revulsion at a deception that had been perpetrated on the British public over four decades: hoodwinked by visible good deeds, so that we wouldn't see the darkness beneath. The next wave saw that fury turned on Savile's longtime employer, the BBC, for failing to reveal the truth about him when it had a clear chance, by binning a Newsnight investigation a year ago – a decision the programme's editor made, we now discover, a day after the corporation had published its Christmas schedule, a lineup that included not one but two fawning tributes to the presenter. That BBC-focused rage reached a peak at the start of the week, when Panorama tore into its sister programme as George Entwistle prepared to take a pasting from a House of Commons select committee. Since then the tide has headed in the reverse direction, with both commentators and politicians insisting it is wrong to obsess over BBC management practices when the real issue is the sexual abuse of children. "The voices of the victims seem to have been completely ignored," the Tory MP Claire Perry told Question Time, because "the BBC is doing too much navel-gazing". So what is the right way to approach this unfolding tale of sorrow and wickedness? Where should we be directing our rage and where should we be looking for blame, for answers or both? Instinctively, I want to side with those who regard the tormenting of the BBC as displacement activity, the product of an all too natural urge to find a living target to attack, given that the real culprit is dead and beyond justice's reach – and perhaps the product too of a desire to avoid staring such soul-sapping depravity in the eye. How much easier to study Newsnight internal emails than to contemplate the testimony of a nine-year-old boy – now a man too ashamed to show his face – led into a dingy BBC side room on the promise of a shiny badge, only to be molested. I too want to applaud a corporation that criticises itself as fiercely as it criticises anyone else – if anything, more fiercely. Few media organisations, few institutions of any kind, would expose themselves to such treatment. Imagine if the Times had led the charge against phone hacking at the News of the World and you see how rare a bird the BBC is. Since we're speaking of News International, I'm also aware that many of those now skewering the BBC are longstanding enemies of the corporation and of the very idea of publicly funded broadcasting. As a repeat defender of the BBC – full disclosure: I present The Long View, an occasional series on Radio 4 – I know that plenty of the loudest critics have been itching to put the knife in, if only as revenge for the intense coverage of the hacking scandal. And now they have their chance. It's equally true that some of Entwistle's Commons inquisitors were guilty of absurd grandstanding, posing and preening to ensure it was they who appeared, in full Watergate inquiry mode, on the teatime news. I know all this and yet I cannot bring myself to exonerate the BBC fully, nor even to join the chorus saying it's time to drop the media introspection and focus narrowly on Savile and his victims. That's not because I concede Entwistle came over as weak and hesitant, his voice strangled by the BBC's distinct brand of corporate management-speak, all "divisional directors" and "referring up". Though he did. Nor is it because Entwistle failed to learn the lesson of Greg Dyke's fall over the David Kelly affair. Remember, Lord Hutton faulted the then director general not for the initial Today report but for his later failure to get a full grasp of the facts before defending the broadcast. Entwistle made that same mistake, allowing the Newsnight editor to post a flawed account of events before he himself had all the facts. Nor is it even the original Newsnight decision that holds me back. Sure, it was a bad journalistic call to drop the Savile story, a view that is clearer with hindsight. But it does not, by itself, justify the mighty storm currently breaking over Broadcasting House. What I struggle to forgive is not the journalistic judgment, but rather the human one. Mark Thompson, the then DG, now admits that he "formed the impression" last December that Newsnight was investigating "allegations of abuse of some kind" relating to Savile. Forget the editorial decision that had to be made. Put aside what the BBC should or should not have broadcast. At that moment a five-alarm warning should have sounded. For Savile was the creature, if not creation, of the BBC. His professional career was conducted entirely on the BBC's airwaves and, crucially, on its premises. Much, if not most, of that work involved children. The BBC bosses should have been gripped that instant by a terrible dread: here was the possibility that Savile had abused children under the BBC's roof, children who had been entrusted into the BBC's care. That possibility did not end with the airing or not of Newsnight's report. For the BBC had a duty – a duty of care – to get to the truth of those allegations, to find out what had happened and to make sure the victims were heard, if not right away by a TV audience then at least by the BBC and the police. Instead, even though they knew these horrendous allegations had been made, they let them go uninvestigated, sitting in a drawer from December until ITV stepped in this month. Theirs was the reaction of the Catholic hierarchy to reports of predatory priests: let's hope the whole nasty business goes away, after all we only have the boys' word for it. Or, as the Newsnight editor put it, we have "just the women". This was the great failing and it goes far beyond journalism. Indeed, to raise it is to shift the focus away from media high politics and back on to the victims and their needs. For this is what past, current and, heaven forbid, future victims of abuse need to know: that if they are abused under the roof, literal or metaphoric, of an institution that was meant to protect them, they will be heard. That is the case the BBC needs to answer. And that is why this crisis could ultimately be more serious than the Hutton episode. Back then the public broadly took the BBC's side against an aggressive government prosecuting an unpopular war. This time it can count on no such sympathy. Twitter: @j_freedland  
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Why I watch every James Bond film with the same two friends

Skyfall – and all Bond films – are best watched with friends. So for nearly two decades I have seen each new movie the same way: flanked in the cinema by 'S' and 'T'

Among the many retro flourishes in Skyfall – including the return of the ejector-seat Aston-Martin from Goldfinger – is an emblem that appears during the final credits, announcing that the 007 movie franchise is celebrating its golden jubilee (just 10 years behind Bond's helicopter-jumping summer co-star, the Queen). When I saw the film a few days ago that fitted my mood perfectly. After all, watching the lights go down at the start of the newest Bond movie has, for me at least, become an experience freighted with nostalgia and tradition. That's because for nearly two decades I have seen each new release the same way: flanked in the cinema by the same two old friends. When we began this custom, back in the earliest days of Pierce Brosnan, we were three young journalists on the starting blocks of our careers. Now one is a seasoned former foreign correspondent, the other has, remarkably enough, made the shift from newspapers to intelligence itself (though working in the private sector rather than for M). Like any good ritual, the same details are observed each time. Planning the screening involves an exchange of emails rarely using our full names: my messages go instead to "S" and "T". Dinner afterwards consists of meticulous plot analysis, spotting any lacunae in 007's tradecraft. During the low points of the last 20 years – Die Another Day or Quantum of Solace – these conversations would run long into the night, identifying flaw after flaw. Skyfall, by contrast, won plaudits for realism even from T, our man in intelligence. Of course, the story's far-fetched, he said. But both cybercrime and the difficulty of protecting secret agents embedded in terror organisations are problems the intelligence services would at least recognise. When we started doing this, Bond – and the world – were still getting used to the post Cold War hangover. Both GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough involved wicked Russians. Tomorrow Never Dies, deserving points for prescience, latched onto the rise of China along with a Murdoch-style media baron as villain. Since then we've had hints of the war on terror and of eco-havoc. And now, in Skyfall, 007 meets a post-ideological antagonist, one whose motivation is personal rather than geopolitical. Each time the three of us gather, the world has changed in some way. We are no longer the twentysomethings we were when our tradition began. Only one of our little group refuses to get older: the eternal secret agent, up there on the big screen.  
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Barack Obama wins last debate – but Mitt Romney may still end up victor

The Republican challenger achieved his aim in the television duels to transform himself into a plausible president

If Mitt Romney is elected president of the United States on 6 November – an outcome which is no longer the statistical implausibility it once was – then historians will say it was the October debate season, that turned it around. Before he came face to face with Barack Obama in Denver three weeks ago, Romney existed in much of the American public mind as a cartoonish figure, a comic-book plutocrat so rich his wife had two Cadillacs and his cars had an elevator of their own. Extravagantly out of touch, he was "Mittens", the pampered son of privilege who refused to come clean about his taxes and whose personal rate turned out to be a measly 14%. Ideologically, he was either unpalatably extreme – a "severe conservative" by his own description, whose message to America's undocumented immigrants was that they should "self-deport" – or an insincere flip-flopper who had reversed countless previous positions – first supporting, then opposing, abortion rights, for instance – to curry favour with the hardcore faithful who pick Republican presidential candidates. And he was useless to boot: clumsily embarking on a summer overseas tour that alienated a string of allies, including Britain, whose imminent Olympics he hinted would be a flop. As late as September his candidacy seemed doomed to failure. He had condemned himself out of his own mouth, thanks to a covert video of a fundraising speech in which he wrote off 47% of the American electorate as feckless parasites who would never vote for him anyway. The conventional wisdom deemed Romney perhaps the most inept nominee of a major party ever to seek the presidency. Obama was on course for a blowout, tipped to retake states that, when he won them in 2008, had seemed like an unrepeatable fluke. But that was before the debate season. Now that it's over, with Monday's encounter the last time the two men will clash directly, the landscape looks utterly different. Before the first debate on 3 October, the national poll average showed Obama consistently ahead, usually with a four-point cushion. Now Romney has a lead: tiny, but a lead. Obama's cheerleaders used to point to his "firewall", his advantage in the key nine or 11 swing states. But now the uber-pollster Nate Silver deems that firewall "brittle", Obama's previous edge in Florida, Colorado and Virginia steadily melting away. Today a different Romney has succeeded in lodging himself in the public imagination: sane, reasonable, even moderate. He seems energetic and capable, his experience in business no longer a liability – evoking questions about the vulture-like conduct of his private equity company, Bain Capital, along with his record of outsourcing American jobs – but an asset, a qualification for turning around the ailing enterprise that is USA, Inc. Monday's performance completed that new picture. Democrats had been painting Romney as the heir to George Bush, noting the hawks and neo-conservative outriders who form his circle of foreign policy advisers. That left the Republican with a single task for a debate dedicated to international affairs: he needed to reassure the American people that he was no warmonger, out to reshape the world with US force, but a cool-headed realist. Accordingly, he lashed himself to his opponent, offering a me-too echo of Obama's foreign policy. He too would withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014. He too had no plans to intervene militarily in Syria. He too regarded war to halt a nuclear Iran as a "last resort". Why, the only differences were ones of style: he would show Vladimir Putin "backbone", rather than the "flexibility" Obama had promised. And he would never apologise for America, or say it had dictated to other nations. Instead he declared – in what was his best moment, one already spliced into a new TV commercial – "Mr President, America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators." Most neutrals gave the debate to Obama, either on points or more convincingly, who regularly exposed Romney's inconsistency on Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran – "you've been all over the map" – and used humour to devastating effect when he rebutted the Republican's lament that the US Navy had fewer ships now than at any time since 1917. Obama's reply: "Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed." But for Romney, none of that much mattered. He was not aiming for a win; he merely needed to avoid disaster. As David Frum, former speechwriter to Bush, tweeted: "Romney reassured voters who fear he might be too hawkish; otherwise gave nobody reason to vote against him. Mission accomplished." That goes for the whole debate season. Romney needed to use October to transform himself from a near joke-figure into a plausible president – and he did. That's why Republicans like to recall Ronald Reagan in 1980. Early that autumn, too many voters regarded Reagan as unfit or too extreme to be president. But during the TV debates, Reagan laid their fears to rest. This autumn also began with the US electorate disappointed in the occupant of the Oval Office. But it first needed to be reassured that it was safe to vote for the alternative. Romney may have lost two out of the three debates but it doesn't matter – he did what he needed to do. Now a campaign that began nearly two years ago enters its final stretch. There will be no more grand set pieces, just the hard graft of on-the-ground organisation, as both parties sweat to get out their vote – with all eyes on one must-win state. "It will all come down to Ohio," says one former Democratic strategist close to the Obama campaign. "Both know it. And it will be a district by district street fight." While Romney looks to energise miners in the south of the state, Obama's hopes will rest on bailed-out car workers in the north. America's future now rests in the narrow statistical space the pollsters call the margin of error.  
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Politics Weekly podcast: Barack Obama v Mitt Romney – US election preview

With two weeks of the 2012 US presidential election to run the race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney looks to be a dead heat on national polls. But with the incumbent Obama still leading in key swing states such as Ohio most pundits still consider him to be the favourite. Joining Tom Clark to discuss the campaign, the polls, the economy and the candidates we have pollster Stan Greenberg, plus Guardian columnists Richard Adams, Jonathan Freedland and Hadley Freeman. We also hear from Aditya Chakrabortty on the economic conditions in the US; from Stan Greenberg on the latest polls and from Geoffrey Kabaservice on what a win for Mitt Romney would mean for the future of the Republican party. Leave your thoughts and predictions below.  

America Forgets the World

Most of the time, the world outside America consisted of three Is and (toward the end) a single C: the threat of a nuclear Iran, the need to stand with Israel, the wisdom of going into Iraq nearly a decade ago and of maintaining a troop presence there now, and finally the menace of job-stealing, currency-manipulating China. Europe surfaced just once, and then only in a list of regions where the US had strong alliances, alongside Africa and Asia. India, home to a billion people and a rising power, was mentioned not at all.