Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Democracy is safer with grumpy old journalists

There are many candidates in print media but when it comes to broadcasting there are just two BBC men who are widely recognised as Britain’s leading political interviewers – television’s Jeremy Paxman and radio’s John Humphrys.
They owe their reputations, in part, to their dogged determination to extract the truth from mendacious politicians – or that is the impression they often give. Paxman has denied his approach is “why is this lying bastard lying to me.”
But you can get a flavour of the man’s interviewing technique in the video clip at the end of this post where he grills ‘blond bombshell’ Boris Johnson about transport spending when the latter was standing in the London mayoral race – which he won despite Paxo’s kicking.
Broadcasters are expected to be even-handed despite their personal views – something that doesn’t trouble UK newspaper pundits; nor it would seem an increasingly partisan American media.
Paxman and Humphrys (who got the worst of a battle of words with Prime Minister David Cameron on the Today programme this morning) have lost some of their killer instinct. But even so they are not the embarrassment to their calling that American political journalists appear to be viewed from this side of the Atlantic.
Britain has occasions when journalists and politicians gather to give each other awards but thankfully nothing that matches the lavish scale of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner which took place at a Hilton hotel in Washington on Saturday evening.
President and Mrs Obama were guests of honour; Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers milked Donald Trump’s White House ambitions for laughs; while a lovey-dovey Sean Penn and Scarlett Johansson gave more fuel to gossip writers.
Obama deserves the plaudits of political reporters for his role in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice but the praise could be judged more heartfelt if the same journalists hadn’t been schmoozing the President the previous night.
I hope alarm bells would start ringing if there was an attempt to stage a London equivalent to the Dinner where the boundaries between the worlds of journalism, politics, and showbiz became similarly blurred and therefore compromised.


  1. Good point, comparisons are already being made about the type of information we get from each country? In the last few days, from the United Kingdom, a wedding. From the United States, a trophy "kill"?

  2. Indeed, as you say, distance adds perspective. GC

  3. The USA is welcome to its trophy "kill". As long as the US administration is happy that it has got to its target and enough insiders know it as a fact; then in that case it is "their baby" and they do not owe the rest of the world too much more information and endless "chewing the cud" of evary detail. War is War and in War everybody dies--the Good the Bad and the Ugly. Anyone who "chaffs at the bit" regarding this revelation should work on outlawing all killing.

  4. Brilliant waffle from Boris. He drove Paxman to "despair". The Paxman/Humphries model of interviewing is 'old hat'. In the interviewing context they are both showing their age in style, errors, too early jumping to conclusions and boredom. All they need is a blathering, gutteral, stumbling scottish accent and we can forget about them completely. If you want to see twentieth century informative interviewing technique then watch Emily Makeliss in action. [Jaffa].

  5. Correction to my reply [above] to your blog GC. Emily Maitlis [correct spelling], should read "If you want to see twenty-first century informative interviewing technique then...." etc. This Canadian born, ex actress, multi-lingual, BBC Newsnight presenter is very talented, surefooted and distinctive without ever making herself the 'main event' of the interview. [Jaffa].


What do you think? GC