Wrong man called Robert Shapiro thrown into on-air BBC debate

Vincent Wood
Evan Davis is the new presenter of Radio 4's PM programme, taking over from recently-departed host Eddie Mair: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

BBC radio host Evan Davis has said he was left “mortified” after bringing the wrong guest on air to discuss the introduction of cameras to court proceedings in the UK.

Davis, who has previously hosted BBC Two’s Newsnight, began to introduce his guest on Radio 4’s PM programme as Robert Shapiro, former lawyer to OJ Simpson, to discuss how implementing the system in the UK might affect legal cases.

However, unbeknown to the veteran broadcaster, he was in fact talking to a different Robert Shapiro – an adviser to Bill Clinton who had also assisted the likes of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Tony Blair on economic and security policy.

The political pundit could be heard chuckling as he was introduced by Mr Davis as part of the “team of attorneys” who took part in “what must be the most high-profile televised court case in history” to speak alongside former justice of the UK Supreme Court Lord Sumption.

Continuing, Mr Davis asked: “I'm fascinated in what you think about these rather tentative steps that are being taken here to showing court on television and whether we are moving on the right track”

After a long pause, and a show of deference to the retired Supreme Court judge he shared the airwaves with, Mr Shapiro worked to alleviate any confusion.

“First of all, it's an honour to be on with Lord Sumption, second, let me say that I am Robert Shapiro, an adviser to Democratic Presidents, not the lawyer. You’ve called the wrong Robert Shapiro.”

“Oh my goodness,” Mr Davis replied, “what a mistake we made. You are obviously in our Rolodex. I am surprised we didn't pick that up in the pre-conversation.”

However, Mr Shapiro went on to speak – at length – on the issue of broadcasting from courts, including the importance of justice being seen to be done and the results of studies by social scientists looking into the impact of cameras on trials.

“Well, this is something I’ve actually looked into and to an American accustomed to televised trials, the decision to televise verdicts certainly doesn’t seem earth shattering, unless it’s a step towards televised court proceedings.

“The questions we asked were – well why not? Why shouldn’t people be able to see for themselves how one of their central means of self-government conducts itself?”

“That was the worst mistake we’ve made on air since I think I started on this programme.” Mr Davis said.

It is not the first time the BBC has mixed up its guests. In 2006, Guy Goma arrived at the broadcaster’s headquarters to apply for an IT job – but was instead ushered onto the set to discuss the intricacies of the legal battle over the Apple logo.

Unsure as to what was going on – and suspicious the broadcast made up part of his interview – he proceeded to attempt to answer the questions in one of the most notable moments of viral media of the decade.

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