Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie slams BBC for ‘sneakily pitting’ her against Trump supporter

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Harriet Hall
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Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won praise recently following a heated live debate in which she schooled a Trump supporter on racism.

The Half of a Yellow Sun and We Should All Be Feminists author, appeared on BBC Newsnight earlier this month, alongside R Emmett Tyrrell, editor of the American Spectator, to discuss the results of the US election.

During the debate, Tyrrell said he didn’t believe Donald Trump was racist, to which Adichie replied: “I’m sorry, but as a white man, you don’t get to define what racism is. You really don’t.”

But despite the interview receiving wide acclaim on YouTube, as people shared it in support of Adichie’s comments, the novelist has now said she is unhappy about how the BBC handled things, slamming the broadcaster in a Facebook post for ‘sneakily pitting’ her against the editor.

The post, entitled: ‘ON THE BBC NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW,’ and written on Friday, explains how the interview was pitched to her:

“Two weeks ago, BBC Newsnight contacted my manager to ask for an interview with me. I would be interviewed by the presenter, they said, and would broadly be asked about the election. I said yes.”

Adichie describes how she was ambushed by the BBC on arrival, explaining then when she arrived at the studio in Washington DC, the producer said: “You’ll be on a panel with a Trump Supporter. A magazine editor who has supported Donald Trump from the beginning.”

“At no time had I been told that there would be anyone else in the interview, never mind being pitted against a Trump Supporter,” she writes. “I felt upset and ambushed.”

But Adichie didn’t walk away. “I decided not to. I was already there. And I did want to talk about the election, which I had experienced in a deeply personal way. I was still stunned and angry and sad. And I still woke up feeling heavy. Not only because I am an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton, but also because, with Donald Trump’s win, America just didn’t feel like America anymore. The country that grew from an idea of freedom was now to be governed by an authoritarian demagogue.”

When she spoke to the producer asking why this had happened, they apologised and said there must have been some confusion, but that all they were seeking was balance.

“But sneakily pitting me against a Trump supporter was not about balance – we could have easily been interviewed separately,” she writes in her post.

“It is a deliberately adversarial strategy that news organizations use in the pursuit of what is often called ‘good television.’ It is about entertainment.”

She agreed to do the interview, but on the condition she wouldn’t have to respond directly to anything the Trump supporter said. She wasn’t interested in fighting it out on air. When the interview began, Adichie was determined to conduct the interview without being affected by the Tyrell’s comments. That is, until he called her emotional.

“I do not respond emotionally like this lady,” he said.

“To say that I responded ‘emotionally’ to the election was to say that I had not engaged my intellect. ‘Emotional’ is a word that has been used to dismiss many necessary conversations especially about gender or race. ‘Emotional’ is a way of discounting what you have said without engaging with it,” Adichie writes.

After that comment, she couldn’t ignore it, and responded passionately to his comments, leaving the studio feeling disheartened: “I left that interview still feeling upset. But it made me better see why America no longer feels like America.”

The BBC has since issued an apology to the author on her Facebook post, saying: “We are terribly sorry you felt ambushed by the encounter. We plainly should have done a better job of making it clear that we wanted to put you on with a Trump supporter but it was an honest mistake.”

“Somewhere between London, where the producer who booked your interview was based, and the Washington team running the show, we dropped the ball. We sincerely apologise for that.”

But the Newsnight team insisted that the incident was not part of an “adversarial strategy” as the author suggested.

“As a general rule we think it seems odd to viewers when live guests do not engage with each other’s arguments. We’d always rather have light than heat, but we think a lot of people will have found your encounter with R Emmett Tyrell Jr quite revealing. More than anything, we’re sad and sorry you had a bad experience with us. We hope you’ll come back for a one to one interview some time.”

Adichie supporters have not responded well to the apology, with one user commenting: “Don't apologise for her feelings, apologise for your actions,” and another saying: “You are aware that saying you're "sorry you felt" is about as insincere and patronizing as an "apology" can be?” (sic).