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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

BBC Breakfast and the Blurred Lines of celebrity journalism

It’s bad enough to conduct a lame, sycophantic interview with a high-profile celebrity on what is supposed to be a news programme. It’s much, much worse when the issue at stake is so important.

But the BBC’s dismal Breakfast programme managed to pull off a rare achievement on Wednesday morning (28/05/14): handing Pharrell Williams valuable publicity and allowing him a free hit to somehow depict himself as a feminist.

Williams was one of the unholy trinity behind 2013’s ‘Blurred Lines': the Horst Wessel song for misogynists. In a pop video of astonishing cynicism, a fully clothed Williams danced around half-naked young women singing the toxic line he wrote: ‘I know you want it!’

Described as ‘rapey’ by critics, Blurred Lines caused a storm of protest. There were plenty of apologists but whatever the intentions, the song and video served only to objectify women and undermine the concept of sexual consent. 

When it comes to sex, no must always mean no; Blurred Lines suggests otherwise, an appalling message. The power dynamic in the video is also clear. The clothed men are in charge, the women merely playthings.

So BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent had plenty to go at when she was put in front of Williams. What would she ask him about Blurred Lines? Did he regret the controversy? Was he ashamed of himself?

No Nugent – or Nugget as she will henceforth be known – said the following: “The thing that I notice from your latest songs is you really love women.”

You may need a minute to digest that statement. I did. Even Williams looked a bit taken aback. His eyes said it all. He looked at Nugget and seemed to think: ‘I know she wants it.’

Williams then went on to paint himself as a tireless campaigner for women’s rights.

He said: “There's a lot that women go through that us, as men, that we just will never be able to understand. We can read about it, we can study it as much as we want but until we walk in your shoes, we won't know what it's like.

“And so, for me, I intended to talk about that a little bit and spread some of that message in my album and just try and push your fight.”

Nugget leapt on this, demanding to know how exactly Blurred Lines had pushed the fight for women’s rights. Except she didn’t. She continued to fawn as Williams said how he would ‘love to see’ a female US President and would be supporting Hillary Clinton if she made a bid for the White House.

Williams said women were “not treated equally in politics...(and) definitely not treated equally in society”.

Again, Nugget sensed the blatant hypocrisy of this statement and almost shouted at Williams to explain how on Earth stripped, mute women dancing around clothed men singing ‘I know you want it’ helped women get equal treatment in society. Except she didn’t.

It wasn’t in any sense journalism. It was unabashed PR. It was shameful.

Maintaining a professional distance: Nugget and Williams.
It’s an unfortunate irony that it took a male journalist to make amends for Nugget’s embarrassing capitulation.

Channel 4 News’ Krishnan Guru-Murthy did what she should have done in an interview held with Williams directly after he had spoken to the BBC.

Williams did his best to justify Blurred Lines. Ultimately he came across as intelligent but wholly disingenuous: a man content to enjoy the financial rewards of chauvinism but unwilling to hold his hand up and admit to it.

As for Sally Nugget, perhaps she could conduct her next interview with Williams stripped down to her smalls.

Perhaps then she might feel the sense of sinister intent inherent in Pharrell Williams’ famous lyric and realise that when it comes to intelligent, responsible journalism - and women's rights - there are no blurred lines.

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