Where are they when you need them?
Broadcast interviewers who can cut the mustard and send politicians scurrying back to party HQs with their tails between their legs and looking for solace? Who is there who can sniff out and deal with obfuscation with scalpel-like precision?
Jeremy Paxman, of course, is no longer with the BBC, and his interviews with Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May for Channel 4 and Sky News underlined how out of touch he has become. He relied far too much on bluster and raw, awkward aggression. So unsubtle was his technique that it left even Corbyn – who simply side-stepped as much as he could and kept his cool – looking almost good.
On the BBC itself, it’s not much better. Evan Davis, Paxman’s successor on BBC2 Newsnight, is so biased against anyone he perceives as right-wing that his approach is a parody of the interviewing art. He comes across as an indignant, over-excited yappy dog – snarling at those he disagrees with and fawning over his lefty heroes.
Over on Radio 4’s Today, where most of the key interviews take place, John Humphrys can still create discomfort among those who are being evasive. But he, too, has caught the Davis disease, and usually treats those on the ‘right’ with far more toughness than those of other political hues.
His interview of Paul Nuttall last week was a case-study. First, three days after the Manchester bombing, he rather crassly suggested that he was on a ‘suicide mission’ – a mistake, maybe, but it set the tone. Out came the full attack arsenal, fired in quick-fire salvoes: Nuttall’s party were racists, redundant and unpleasantly prejudiced against Islam.
Just like, in the BBC lexicon, Ukip always have been.
Nuttall could scarcely get in a word edgeways.
What of the other Today presenters? Mishal Husain is most relentless in her pursuit of women’s rights, perceived Islamophobia and social justice. Nick Robinson has become the indignant defender-in-chief of BBC journalism – protesting, in effect, that it is never biased – while Sarah Montague and Justin Webb bumble through, their toughest approaches always reserved for right-wing targets.
(Image: Duncan Hull)