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A steady rise, a fast fall for BBC's George Entwistle

By Dana Ford, CNN
November 11, 2012 -- Updated 1055 GMT (1855 HKT)
  • NEW: George Entwistle was not pushed out of his job, the BBC Trust chairman said
  • NEW: Entwistle resigned over the broadcast of false claims by a sex abuse victim
  • He spent 23 years at the BBC, but just 54 days as director general
  • Entwistle, who struck some as aloof, was labeled "Incurious George" by British media

(CNN) -- It was, undoubtedly, a media label George Entwistle did not like: "Incurious George."

But similar to the popular children's book character by almost the same name, it stuck, and that image of him, fair or not -- as passive, detached, uninterested -- helped force Entwistle to resign after just 54 days after taking the helm as director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Entwistle stepped down amid controversy over a report that falsely implicated a senior political figure of the 1980s in a child sex scandal.

It was the second major crisis of his short tenure to rock the BBC, one of the world's largest and most respected media organizations.

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"When appointed to the role, with 23 years' experience as a producer and leader of the BBC, I was confident the trustees had chosen the best candidate for the post," a somber Entwistle told reporters late Saturday.

Savile's years of abuse

"...However, the wholly exceptional events of the past few weeks have led me to conclude that the BBC should appoint a new leader."

Police: Arrest made in Savile probe

Just days after taking the helm of the UK public broadcaster on September 17, Entwistle became embroiled in a scandal involving the BBC over its handling of sexual abuse allegations against its late TV presenter Jimmy Savile.

Cops: Savile a predatory sexual offender

"That was the first crisis, if you like, and it broke all over George Entwistle's head within about 10 days of him starting the job," said Steve Hewlett, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper.

TV icon sex abuse scandal rocks the BBC

The scandal exploded amid revelations that BBC's Newsnight pulled a report into the allegations against Savile ahead of a planned tribute to the late TV presenter by the news organization scheduled to air later in the year.

Entwistle was called in front of lawmakers to answer for the scandal surrounding Savile, who authorities say was suspected of having sexually abused young women and girls, sometimes on BBC premises.

The director general's controlled performance did not win praise, and earned Entwistle the label, "Incurious George," Hewlett said.

While trying to contain the fallout from Savile scandal, Entwistle, the BBC and Newsnight were hit with another sex abuse scandal.

On November 2, Newsnight aired the sex abuse claims against the senior political figure. Days later, the victim admitted he identified the wrong man.

The BBC aired an apology on Friday, but it did little to contain the damage.

Entwistle, who was reared in Yorkshire, began his career as a magazine writer and editor.

He joined the BBC in 1989 as a broadcast journalism trainee and later as an assistant producer, covering the first Gulf War and the resignation of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, according to a BBC profile.

Between 1994 and 1999, he worked as a producer, assistant editor and deputy editor on Newsnight, the flagship BBC program caught up in both sex abuse scandals. He became editor of that program in 2001, the BBC said.

Entwistle also served as director of BBC Vision, overseeing all of the BBC's major TV channels.

He exemplifies the finest values of public service broadcasting... he's behaved as editor with huge honor and courage.
Lord Patten, Chairman of the BBC Trust

He was named the director general by the BBC Trust, the governing body of the media organization, on September 17.

Fifty-four days later, he resigned, citing "the unacceptable journalistic standards" of the flawed Newsnight report.

It was a steady rise, followed by a fast fall.

"He exemplifies the finest values of public service broadcasting," said Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust.

He stood alongside Entwistle as the director general announced his resignation outside the BBC's headquarters in London.

"He's behaved as editor with huge honor and courage," said Patten.

"George was set on putting in place a number of reforms and changes, which will be required in this great organization. It's a real tragedy that he was overwhelmed ... by these events before he was able to act in a way, which is clearly necessary."

Entwistle was not pushed out of his position, Patten told BBC's Andrew Marr show on Sunday.

"He went, and very honorably," he said.

Facing increasing criticism over the Newsnight claims, Entwistle spoke to BBC Radio 4's Today program Saturday shortly before he stepped down. He was pressed on what he knew about the false sex abuse allegations.

Entwistle said he did not find out about the report until after it aired, stressing that not every piece of journalism produced by the BBC rises to his level. He also said he was unaware, initially, of a Guardian report that blasted the piece.

Entwistle's comments struck at least one critic as aloof.

"Publishing a gross libel of this seriousness, at a point when the BBC is under so much pressure, and then to find that the editor in chief appears to know almost nothing about it," Hewlett said.

"That's really what did it for George Entwistle."

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