British News Show Trolls Trump Over Ratings—But It Can’t Claim Moral High Ground

'Have I Got News for You' can't quite claim the moral high ground over Trump.

Many 'Have I Got News for You' panels feature only one woman.
Many ‘Have I Got News for You’ panels feature only one woman. YouTube

It would be the perfect joke to troll Trump—if only the right person had made it.

Piers Morgan’s interview with the president aired on British network ITV on Monday night, pegged to President Donald Trump’s recent trip to the United Kingdom. Morgan heavily promoted the interview, but it only drew 1.2 million viewers.

On the flip side, a repeat episode of the satirical British news program Have I Got News for You (basically a half-hour, British Weekend Updatenotched 1.5 million viewers on the BBC.

Stephen Mangan, one of the rotating guest hosts on the show (popularly referred to as HIGNFY) celebrated the news on Twitter.

At first glance, this is hilarious: a president who’s obsessed with ratings couldn’t beat a year-old episode of a show that routinely makes fun of him.

But the former Apprentice host has something dark in common with HIGNFY: they’ve both displayed an alarming lack of respect for women.

Now, none of the HIGNFY panelists have ever threatened to grab anyone by the pussy. But historically, testosterone has reigned on the set of the BBC hit, which just wrapped its 55th season—the show premiered in 1990, and two seasons (or “series” as they’re called in Britain) air every year.

The two team captains, Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, are both white men. Each episode features a special guest host and a celebrity panelist from the world of politics or comedy who joins each team.

While at least one woman appears every week, historically the jokes and commentary have been very masculine. One of the most extreme examples occurred last November, in the thick of the #MeToo movement.

The panel was discussing the resignation of Michael Fallon, the British defense secretary who left his post after sexually harassing female journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer.

Guest Quentin Letts joked that Fallon was “brave” to go after Hartley Brewer because she’s “a big, strong girl.”

English comedian Jo Brand—that week’s guest host and the only woman onstage—responded, “She’s not a girl. She’s a woman, Quentin, she’s not a girl.”

But then Hislop piped up that the allegations against Fallon were “not high level crime.” At that point, Brand couldn’t take it anymore.

“If I can just say, as the only representative of the female gender here today… I know it’s not high level, but it doesn’t have to be high level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons,” she said. “And actually, for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and it wears you down.”

Brand’s speech went viral on Twitter, and the BBC got over 200 complaints about Letts and Hislop’s remarks.

But the network defended its stars, saying it would’ve been “odd” to ignore the scandal and HIGNFY had always been “topical” and “controversial” without trying to “deliberately offend viewers.”

“There will sometimes be panel members with views that the audience and others on the show may disagree with,” the BBC said. “We do not necessarily share or endorse the views of the panelists, and their material doesn’t reflect the opinions of the BBC… we accept that tastes vary enormously and that some viewers might have a different point of view.”

This isn’t the first time those “different points of view” have gotten the show in trouble, however. Hislop has claimed that some female politicians are too “modest” to appear on the program.

Ironically, the producer of HIGNFY, Jo Bunting, is a woman. But she too defends the machismo on set, claiming that women don’t host because they want to get paid more.

“Ego, isn’t it? And the other thing is money, I suppose,” she said in an interview last year. “You get paid a lot more. They’re not stupid and they’re quite greedy.’

All of these comments would seem to be right at home coming out of Donald Trump’s mouth. So maybe instead of celebrating its ratings victory, the people behind HIGNFY should take a long, hard look in the mirror.

British News Show Trolls Trump Over Ratings—But It Can’t Claim Moral High Ground