For someone with the journalistic experience of Charles Moore (Eton and Trinity College Cambridge), who has edited both Telegraph titles as well as the Spectator, he does have trouble in getting an accurate handle on his own profession. This has been shown once again in his reaction to the news that BBC Newsnight is soon to part company with The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah.
Paxman’s imminent departure has precipitated a dreadfully wrong call from Moore, as he pontificates “The big BBC bully has had his day. It’s time for polite women ... Politicians have changed – the type of inquisition in which Jeremy Paxman specialises on Newsnight doesn’t work any more”. Yeah, right. Like being polite ever got any interviewer to cut through the heavily spun armour of modern politicians.
Moore’s research appears absent: “The BBC badgered for years to be allowed to televise Parliament, but when it finally succeeded, in 1989, it soon relegated its main-channel coverage to a few clips from Prime Minister’s Questions. Quite suddenly, after years of reporting the place assiduously, the corporation lost interest, like Don Juan after a conquest”. Hence BBC Parliament, eh? A dedicated channel.
So where do the women come in? “It is also interesting that it [the inquisitor] is almost always a he. Although women now hold important media positions, the role of inquisitor remains overwhelmingly male. I really do wonder whether people want this any more”. He missed Sue Lawley (his heroine Mrs T didn’t) as well as her modern counterparts like Cathy Newman and Kirsty Wark.
Moore also misses the presence of Laura Kuenssberg at Newsnight, the very programme he is discussing. And he doesn’t get the past generation of inquisitors right either, talking of “the subtle and sympathetic Brian Walden”. Is he out to lunch, or what? Walden was as combative as Paxo, Robin Day, Jon Snow, and the rest. What’s more, John Humphrys, writing in the same paper, disagrees with him.
“How Jeremy Paxman tamed the spin doctors ... Listeners and viewers are not fools, and Paxo helped them spot what was going on” he tells, putting the obvious question “Imagine the interview in which the politician never ducks or dodges a question, never misses an opportunity to attack the opposing party or praise his own leader, and always answers every question”. You can’t. Therefore Paxo.
Humphreys adds “It was worse when they mostly refused point blank to answer questions from grubby hacks at all ... All that changed when broadcasting giants such as Robin Day, Alastair Burnet and Brian Walden challenged the old order and won”. And the likes of Paxo then got through the fog created by the spinners. That is what Moore has wrong – and why there is still a need for the inquisitor.
That will remain the case, whatever the gender of the person asking the questions.