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As if the BBC wasn't already in enough trouble over the Jimmy Savile fiasco, it just got even worse. After it was confirmed that the BBC's flagship newscast got it wrong--bad wrong--about alleged pedophilia by a former Thatcher-era politician, BBC director-general George Entwistle resigned on Saturday night (Saturday afternoon here in the States).
Entwistle fell on his sword after being engulfed by a crisis that escalated following confirmation on Friday that the BBC had wrongly implicated Lord McAlpine, a former senior Tory politician, in a story about paedophilia. It was the second scandal to hit Newsnight in recent weeks.
In an extraordinary scene outside Broadcasting House, in central London, just after 9pm, Entwistle, flanked by the BBC Trust's chairman, Chris Patten, said he felt it was the "honourable" thing to do.
His resignation was accepted by Lord Patten who said it was one of the "saddest evenings of my public life" to see Entwistle end his 23-year career at the BBC in such ignominious circumstances.
Here's some background. Last Friday, the BBC's Newsnight--the equivalent of the network newscasts stateside-- reported that Steve Messham, a resident at a Welsh nursing home (or care home, as it's called in the UK), claimed that a prominent Conservative politician from the 1980s had molested him. He was subsequently identified on the Internet as Lord McAlpine, who had been treasurer for the Conservatives during the Thatcher government. However, on Friday, The Guardian reported that Messham admitted he may have fingered the wrong guy. The BBC subsequently did its own investigation, admitted it got the story wrong, and apologized. But on an interview on the Saturday edition of Today on BBC Radio 4--roughly the equivalent of All Things Considered--Entwistle admitted that he didn't even know the story was going to run. Within 12 hours, Entwistle had resigned.
Needless to say, the UK press has been absolutely savage in its criticism of Entwistle. All indications were that they were prepared to pull out the journalistic pitchforks if he didn't go himself. To understand just how serious this is, imagine if the news director of a television station or the head of the news division of a major network didn't know that a story this explosive was going to air.