That Kirsty Wark learned me everything I know…

Ok. I wasn’t going to blog any more since it’s Friday and I’m waiting for a furniture van to arrive to take away a church pew I’ve had in the hallway and which is now being replaced by Louis XIV sofa. I plan to lounge there foppishly and light cheroots with my redundancy money. Anyway the guy from the auctioneers phoned to say he’ll be half an hour late so I’d like to make a quick point.


I see Kirsty Wark is the latest victim of bias accusations. I assure you she is more than capable of defending herself and certainly more capable than me but what’s the evidence of bias?

Take the Salmond interview, now notorious, and rightly so. It was a shocker. I watched and said out loud: “She’s lost the plot”. It was one of the worst of its kind I’ve seen and sounded tainted with a personal element. I’ve no idea what she was thinking except remember that Newsnight isn’t planned, produced or presented for you. You’re a Scot. You’ve got your own wee version. This one in London is for the grown-ups.

If the producer wants his show to reflect conventional Home Counties attitudes towards this upstart Jock, he will have to be tackled robustly. He would say: He himself has a robust reputation and we must be sure not to let him away with anything or we’ll get flack. And Kirsty, remember, you’re a Scot and the audience will think you’ve gone native if you soft-pedal. So go for him with everything you’ve got. I don’t care if Salmond complains. Nobody in London cares if he complains. I don’t want the Debrief to be one of those If Only events. Go get him…

Put it another way, going hard at Salmond is hardly qualification for Better Together membership. We’ve all done it. Me too. He’s got exasperated with me and put me down on air several times. And I’m an admirer.

So there’s another thought. If you personally support the politician in front of you, do you soft-soap? In my experience you do the opposite. You try doubly hard to stiff them for fear of being accused of handling them too gently. Just apply some alternative logic.

Some of you are understandably being provoked by an interviewer slapping your man about, and think therefore the interviewer must be biased against him. Is that what you say when the leader of the other lot is getting a pummelling? Of course not.  In that case the interviewer has judged it just right.

We’re all biased but funnily enough it’s only really when you are forced to confront that – as you are as a BBC journalist – that the scales fall from your eyes and you see some perspective.

Being pals at all with Jack McConnell may require a quantum leap for you and me who’d rather be stuck in a lift with Iain Gray for 24 hours, but that tells you nothing about Kirsty’s own views. Do all your pals agree with you? Anyway, if I understand it, the Laird of Glenbluster is actually pals with Kirsty’s man, Alan who was at uni with him, I imagine. Stirling?

The truth is I don’t know what Kirsty votes and neither do you. A trick in my trade when you can’t make sense of something is to turn the telescope around. Look again. What do you see? A woman, one of our best women, a real achiever, a millionaire, an ambassador for Scots who has done how many interviews do you reckon over 30 years or so? Thousands. Untold numbers. And over all that time we can think of possibly one, maybe two that were dodgy, leaving a taint of bias in some viewers’ minds…and one or two references like the idiotic “pibroch currency” mention in the Coldsteam programme.

She may be a die-hard Unionist who loathes independence for all I know but realistically, can you base that assumption on anything she’s said on air? It would be a seriously harsh judgement, one that I wouldn’t like to be subjected to.

By the way, I’m not an unalloyed admirer. There are one or two wee things over the years where I have had cause to revise my opinion of her. But they’re personal. She remains one of the single most professional, honest, perennially upbeat, inspirational people I’ve worked with and I have used her example to keep me on track ever since. Sadly, without the same degree of success or reward. Damn her!


That’s my furniture man at the door. Pews aweigh….

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0 thoughts on “That Kirsty Wark learned me everything I know…

  1. The ‘pibroch’ comment seemed to be an outburst with no prior thinking.
    If that is what lurks in her subconcious………….

  2. Chilling with Bob Dylan…therefore generously disposed…Spain with First Minister was not a wise move.

  3. She is often rude and disrespectful to SNP politicians in a way not seen with Labour members.

    Still, you know her better.

    You only need to watch Reporting Scotland or Newsnight for a few days to see a very obvious pattern.

    I have given up watching now or even listening to BBC news as I find it so annoying.

  4. The main point is, whether or not these annoyances are down to bias, shoddy performance or anything else, they are wrong, so what can we the great Scottish public do, if anything, to correct matters.

    There also remains the point however that unless you can look into a person’s conscious, who ever they might be, you cannot be absolutely certain of why they act the way that they do, especially those who consistently act in such a manner.

    By the way Derek this is not personal, although there again you can’t look into my conscious! I think your blogs have added an interesting new dimension to topical debates

  5. And sometimes interviewers, like the rest of us poor mortals just have questions they want answers to!

  6. Kirsty follows the establishment line and does really well…..shockeroonie !
    She’d be in the dustbin with Tam etc if she ever stepped out of line. She certainly wouldn’t be a millionaire smooching with Lords ( and Ladies).

  7. Oh come on. She’s really not that great, imo. Needs to be well scripted, people speaking in her ear. When she’s been a stand-in in for Kaye it’s clear she can’t do, the less scripted, radio at all well. Rather perplexed you deem her to be so good.

    As it goes, if we’re talking about Scottish professionals, Eddie Mair is head and shoulders above anyone else, there’s a real professional. And you know what, as someone who has chosen London as his home, he won’t, gratuitously be part of the debate. That’s an honest, decent stance.

    And frankly probably the best, current, radio broadcaster in the UK right now.

  8. Oh and if in doubt just watch Glen Greenwald make the point

    • Roibert a Briuis

      YES i watched that and boy did she get – put down big time.

    • Wark is living evidence of Chomsky and Herman’s thesis of prominence through conformity with establishment ideals. Not to say she is not competent; she is very good. But the showing-up she was treated to by Greenwald is proof perfect that she is badly compromised.

      • Bottom line, she’s really not that good. That’s it. Don’t forget this is someone who relies on copious briefs and people from the ‘gallery’ prompting her. Let’s agree she aint that good.
        As I have previously said I have no truck with TV News, now radio, at its best, that’s quite a different beast. Something K Wark is rather not good at and that’s being generous.

    • Oh, that Greenwald interview curled my toes…

  9. Having read what Derek has to say, I’m changing my view. On any balanced consideration, Kirsty is an enormous asset to the Yes campaign.

  10. […] That Kirsty Wark learned me everything I know… […]

  11. Derek,
    As I have already made clear before, I am very grateful for your blog and it’s inside knowledge, energy and candour.

    However, when it comes to advising us on the veracity of conclusions we have come to over many, many viewing years, on the bias or otherwise of BBC Scotland, along with many of it’s major personalities/movers and shakers, then I am afraid you are most probably wasting your time.

    I have come to my conclusions simply from the evidence of my experiences as a viewer. Is it not, after all, viewer perception that is of utmost concern in matters of effective mass broadcasting (state or otherwise), and which the broadcast media is professionally geared up to deliver?

    Very few of us viewers are ever likely to see Kirsty’s heartfelt embarrassment, or steely self criticism when the cameras have stopped rolling after the First minister of my Country has already been publicly belittled and treated with disdain by the powerful institutional voice of my state broadcaster, for example.

    There are endless examples of this, from ministers losing their jobs because of weather forecasts or ‘Reporting’ trips to America to find someone outraged at a prisoner release, or constant factually inaccurate reporting of ‘Scottish’ banking bailouts etc. etc..

    You may know how professional and upset each individual is that is involved in the ‘foul up’ and the pressures they have to operate under, but we, the unwashed viewer is only left with the unvarnished result. Which is, I am afraid, pretty blatant bias.

    Add to that the swamp any attempt to complain sinks into without trace (hello Jeff Zycinski) and the case is closed.

    You need to start seeing this from outside the personal knowledge bubble and inside the everyday viewer’s seat the broadcasts are targeted at. As you put it, turn that telescope around and take a look.

    Again, I really don’t envy you your loyalties, especially over the coming year or so.

  12. I had a lot of time for Kirsty until that interview she lost a lot of credence that day. You don’t come on that strong to a politician unless there is some animosity or an axe to grind.
    Eddie Mair as Albalha said is head and shoulders above her, as he is above Paxman, and Marr. I also like Nick Robinson and Laura Kuensburg, John Humphreys and Michael Crick. Brewer and Dimbelyby are dire.

  13. I am not a fan of Kirsty Wark at all. Along with the holiday with Jack McConnell, she got appointed to the Holyrood parliament committee by Donald Dewar. There is the infamous Salmond interview, where she appeared to be irate that the SNP had won the 2007 election. Recently in the independence debate she made the comment that Juteman has mentioned above. Gerry Hassan mentioned how biased she was in that debate. Wark gives all the appearance of being a Scottish Labour media darling, see also Jackie Bird…

  14. Sorry, Derek, but Kirsty Wark is no victim. That interview and her comment at the debate wer egregious examples of bad interviewing and bias. That it may have pleased the Home Counties is irrelevant. It was badly done. It is a long way from the only example and what the heck does her being a millionaire have to do with it. Seriously? I’m sorry if one of your pals has come under the microscope. Journalists are no more free from scrutiny than politicians, nor should they be.

  15. Derek, you wrote:

    “remember that Newsnight isn’t planned, produced or presented for you. You’re a Scot. You’ve got your own wee version. This one in London is for the grown-ups. If the producer wants his show to reflect conventional Home Counties attitudes…”

    This is what really irritates people and it is bias. Newsnight is, or purports to be, just that – for all the UK. It is not entitled “Newsnight Home Counties”, yet it is obvious to you and everyone else that it comes from a London-centric perspective. The perspective that it is OK for everyone to pay the same licence fee and a small minority (about 10M out of 65M) to have BBC broadcasting designed entirely around them
    The subtle nuances of whether particular individuals are displaying personal bias or just implementing institutional bias is irrelevant to the main point.

    • “The subtle nuances of whether particular individuals are displaying personal bias or just implementing institutional bias is irrelevant to the main point.”

      You have very succinctly hit the nail on the head.

      The power of nuance in news reporting… The power of those who control the media to use (and abuse) information for their own ends. Blatant media manipulation for money, prestige and power. I’m sure the future Baroness Wark is doing a fine job to attain her employer’s (and political class’) goal.

  16. Still not convinced Derek, unionist group think is clearly rife at the bbc, London centric & institutionally unionist. It is a mindset where London’s little helpers scream ‘look at me, look at me, aren’t I a good little boy/girl’.
    I could ignore it if the bbc wasn’t so holier-than-thou about its fabled objectivity, pouring scorn on what it portrays as less worthy media in apparently lesser countries. How many FoI requests has it answered for example ? Ofcom ? It is an organisation now to be held in contempt. Smug, self-serving, greedy, rotten.
    Looking back I cannot believe how far I have travelled from being a West-coast labour voter who held the bbc in regard as an objective, inquiring news organisation.
    I despise both labour & the bbc now, self-serving institutions who have a common purpose of milking the public for their own nourishment.

  17. Kirsty Wark is not merely abrasive, rude and gratuitously offensive to guests like our First Minister but she has also been seriously compromised as an impartial and unbiased broadcaster due to the cosy association she and her husband have enjoyed with senior Scottish Labour politicians over a period of many years.

    How this woman has been been allowed to continue in her supposedly impartial role on Newsnight and other current affairs programmes, all paid for by the public purse, is nothing short of outrageous.Her supposed political neutrality was busted many years ago.

    She and the McConnells clearly influenced the ascetic Donald Dewar in the appalling design of the Scottish Parliament, based on their time spent together in Spain.Not that she has ever cared about the architectural inappropriateness and staggering cost of this folly.

    It should also be a cause for concern that the television production company owned by her husband and Wark has received commissions from the BBC on various occasions. A publicly owned corporation should not be awarding contracts of this kind when one of that company’s directors is a paid employee.Little wonder she has become a millionaire with her snout so firmly in the public trough over the past two decades..

  18. I have been around a bit, and I have no doubt whatsoever that right now in 2013 the BBC is blatantly biased against the SNP and Scottish independence. I can think back as others have done to major events such as the release of Megrahi, when the BBC became akin to Labour party ‘spin central’ – all aimed against the SNP, MacAskill and Alex Salmond. I remember the blatantly distorted reporting. It was hardly down to ‘poor management’ or ‘just coincidence’.

    It really won’t do to hold the view, that well, they are all nice chaps in the BBC really and mean no harm, when in reality their actions are skewing (or wilfully gerrymandering if you like) the most important democratic decision to be made in Scotland for over three hundred years.

  19. That’s interesting. At the time of Megrahi’s release there were a number of opinion polls in Scotland about it. One chain of local newspapers polled readers of each title separately. Most of these were around 70% in favour of his release. One poll only showed about 25% in favour. Guess which one the BBC constantly headlined?

    • I should say that I didn’t mean one of the newspaper polls – these were all about the same. The outlier poll was a separate commission from a different body.

  20. I agree with you about the so-called notorious interview with AS. The way I read it at the time she just got a bit flustered and had to cover it up by being rude.

  21. The BBC is heavily biased, end of.

  22. Aye, our Kirsty has done well. Good chums they are, the Warks and McConnells. I hope she slept well at Bute House when Jack invited her over for a sleep over. Funnily enough, this story is over on the Scotsman right now.

  23. I care not a jot whether she’s a dependent or an independent. She does over-rely on the dualistic “put the opposition case doggedly and go for the throat” rather than the “forensically tease out the truth” style of interview. Standing the cringe-worthy “most embarrassing … ever” title, as noted earlier by Albalha you can always count on your subject to make your readers wonder quite how tongue-in-cheek your piece is by the end of the day:

    One is left pining for a comic genius to to a sketch on Wark v. Woodward & Bernstein.

  24. “Wark is living evidence of Chomsky and Herman’s thesis of prominence through conformity with establishment ideals.” Stands reiteration.
    Salmond, and any other figure who is a threat to the establishment, is always going to be treated by Wark and her ilk (and she IS of an ilk) with contempt.

  25. Greenwald gave a masterclass in what journalism is about, and Kirsty Wark didn’t pass. I used to think she was quite good until I saw that.
    The way he reduced the former Security Minister to bluster, exposing that Minister’s dangerous ignorance was something to behold.

  26. Years ago, pre-devolution, I watched Wark interviewing a leading Scottish Labour politician. She read the questions from a clipboard, and when each response had been given, she simply read out the next question. There was no further probing, no challenging follow-up questions; she seemed pleased with the way the interview was going, sometimes smiling. I thought: “Come on – there’s this and there’s that and the other thing you could challenge him on”. I thought her weak performance was due to inexperience or because she had been landed with the interview at short notice and wasn’t familiar with the issues. In later years, I decided it hadn’t been weakness, but bias.

  27. It’s disappointing our publicly paid for broadcaster is so biased & Ms Wark is party to it, serving the establishment instead of providing an impartial service to the people who pay her wages…the viewers.

    Having never written to the BBC at all in the past, before confirmation of our Independence referendum, I’ve written umpteen letters since, complaining about their bias. From blatant omissions, to absurd camera shots focusing on Nicola Sturgeon’s red shoes whilst she made a speech at an SNP conference & then there was the screwy volume control on Nicola Sturgeon’s mic during her interview with Brewer. There are so, so many glaring examples of bias, I can only assume your bubble must have had an awfy thick skin for you not to be aware of it, when you were employed by the BBC, Derek.

  28. Your declared and continuing admiration for Ms Wark as a mentor in your broadcasting career does you credit personally. I too can think of a few people from my own past, who still rank in my mind as mentors in my developing life and career choices. However, I cannot and never would claim them to be perfect in their choice of political beliefs or lifestyles. Kirsty Wark may have been someone whom a young aspiring journalist/presenter could admire and seek to emulate, but like any other human being she is flawed and not perfect. Her apparent political bias towards the Labour Party and the Unionist BBC establishment is all too evident in her interviewing style, and in particular the manner in which she poses questions, depending on the political opinions of the interviewee. Her treatment of and attitude towards SNP or pro-independence interviewees is markedly more hostile and dismissive than she ever evinces towards anyone from the pro-Union side of the debate.

  29. The point of a BBC interview is to enlighten the viewers, not to reinforce their prejudices. The UK electorate are woefully uninformed about the referendum campaign, and this attitude is responsible.

    Unfortunately, all of the presenters on Newsnight think they’re more important than any story, let alone than the viewers. They need to remember they’re tv presenters. Like Fearne Cotton. Paxman comparing our democratically elected FM to Robert Mugabe did not just insult him, it insulted us all.

    • cynicalHighlander

      Unfortunately, all of the presenters on Newsnight think they’re more important than any story

      Its the celebrity culture virus which infests more and more of society promoted by tv which is why the UK is in such a mess.

  30. Personally I though Greenwald came across as a complete dick in that interview. Didn’t cross his mind that Kirsty Wark was giving him a great opportunity to explain his actions against the accusations of the state. Instead he tried to patronise Kirsty Wark and treat her like an idiot. I admire that she never lost her cool. I would have told him to gtf inside two minutes.


    I have to agree with Jonathan here. It isn’t only on independence that, to be frank, Kirsty Wark is simply neither a good interview nor a good journalist. To put it mildly, I do not share your admiration.

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