Smelling the coffee
So just how do you get Abu Izzadeen, the man who loudly heckled the home secretary at a speech on Wednesday, to appear on the Today Programme? And should he even have been on in the first place?
Today reporter Zubeida Malik has had some dealings with the firebrand protester in the past, and when she finally caught up with him on Thursday afternoon, she was able to persuade him that an 0810 encounter with John Humphrys would be the best way to ensure that his motives for making the protest were heard and scrutinised.
Of course, that's just the beginning of the story... there was an editorial judgement to be made both about whether he should appear in the first place, and if so where in the programme. The Today team discussed some of these issues and decided that this was an 0810 interview, not least because the kind of views Izzadeen holds are exactly those that Reid was seeking to confront in his speech.
There is a powerful argument to be made that presenting the most extreme voices on air actually damages the process of integrating the Muslim community into the fight against terrorism. The BBC has a duty to balance voices, and to present a representative range of views from within communities. A number of listeners were quick to remind us on e-mail of the damage we were risking:
"He is a nobody. Don't give air to these people: it doesn't help our perception of muslims, it can only be damaging."
But others disagreed: "The young man you spoke to was understandably very angry - he made a lot of points which I think we should be listening to. All John Humphrys could say was 'If you don't like it here, why don't you leave?' The young man said more than once that he loves Britain, but that he hates the way his people are being treated, and warning that if things don't change, there will be an eruption which we will have difficulty dealing with. Instead of reviling him and ignoring his message, perhaps we should listen to him and his people and see how to find a way to coexist."
We have in recent weeks set up an interview panel of young Muslims, precisely to counter the bias towards established and known Muslim voices on our output. They'll be on the programme on Saturday morning and we'll be asking them what they made of what they heard (and you can hear their first outing here).
Izzadeen and his companion were polite in person... confident and boisterous, and he came off air believing that the interview (which you can hear here) had not overly taxed him, and indeed that some of John's questions were ill-framed. An argument about whether Muslims who found themselves completely at odds with the rule of law here should move to Saudi Arabia was, he felt, more worthy of the white van driver than the BBC.
And thanks to an eagle-eyed staff member, we managed to avoid a potentially awkward green room meeting between Izzadeen and that morning's Thought for the Day guest, Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks. Would they have found some common ground over the soggy croissants? Some things I feel are beyond even BBC patisserie.