Matthew Norman's media diary

Why Paxoid aggro is not enough

Jeremy Paxman's majestic Newsnight demolition of the Prime Minister prompts the usual sterile, quadrennial debate about the big political interview. Has Paxo, as one media writer suggests, "turned politics into pantomime"? Might a more mannerly approach produce better results? And is the BBC more interested in chasing ratings with this combative approach than eliciting the sort of Aristotelian discourse that we'd expect from Mr Blair were he interviewed by, for example, the politically ambitious actor Ross Wade (Ross Kemp as was), who sometimes hosts New Labour "road shows"?

Jeremy Paxman's majestic Newsnight demolition of the Prime Minister prompts the usual sterile, quadrennial debate about the big political interview. Has Paxo, as one media writer suggests, "turned politics into pantomime"? Might a more mannerly approach produce better results? And is the BBC more interested in chasing ratings with this combative approach than eliciting the sort of Aristotelian discourse that we'd expect from Mr Blair were he interviewed by, for example, the politically ambitious actor Ross Wade (Ross Kemp as was), who sometimes hosts New Labour "road shows"?

It is always a delight to find newspapers, so indifferent to circulation figures themselves, shocked by the Beeb's trying to attract more viewers. Even so, you wonder whether the fault line lies more with the structure of the interviews than the style. The problem, it seems to me, is that they are far too short and prerecorded. Nonagenarian cricket fans may remember the "timeless Test", and this seems a useful template. If politicians were locked in the studio with no prospect of release until they had definitively answered three questions, the need for Paxoid aggression would evaporate.

As a defender of US treatment of Guantanamo inmates, the PM can have no moral objection to interviewees being starved of sleep, and while lie detectors would be mandatory, the use of electrodes and truth drugs would be prohibited for the first 12 hours. The interview would be broadcast live on BBC3. It is 18 years since a serious politician gave a straight answer to a straight question ("Well, I had to say something, didn't I?" was David Owen's reply, on the night of the 1987 election, when asked why he had predicted sweeping SDP gains), and without a radical reappraisal of the political interview along the above lines, there may never be another again.

THE DANGERS OF the hurried interview extend beyond politics, of course, as a radio chat with that doughty guardian of footballing morality, George Graham, confirmed last week. Invited to share his thoughts on Chelsea's lively season, George spared José Mourinho in favour of attacking the man with arguably the most demanding job in the history of PR, Chelsea's director of communications Simon Greenberg. What George wanted to remind listeners of, but was denied the time to do so, was that Mr Greenberg broke the story of how, as Arsenal manager, he graciously accepted carrier bags full of treasury notes - "Christmas presents", as he styled them - from a Norwegian football agent.

I'M ENCOURAGED, meanwhile, to find that that lovable Paxo-wannabe Nicky Campbell sharpening up his act. Anchoring Newsnight is one of the myriad job offers that Nicky claims to have rejected, but based on his current form, they're sure to be hunting him again before long. On BBC Radio Five Live's breakfast show, Nicky spoke with David Attenborough about the melting of the polar icecap and the potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole planet. "In the words of an old Scottish soldier," he said, "are we all doomed?"

In a trivial age, there is little more refreshing than a presenter committed to treating the gravest issues with the lack of flippancy they demand. If anything, in fact, Nicky can sometimes go that step too far in the quest for gravitas. But that's a tiny quibble.

EXCITEMENT IN THE world of magazines over a Media Week photograph of a grinning Nicholas Coleridge. Always a striking figure, Condé Nast's MD looks more gorgeous than ever, and after close analysis, the area of beautification is identified as his gleamingly immaculate teeth. A discussion ensues as to whether they might somehow have regenerated themselves, and eventually a call is made. "I had my teeth capped five years ago," Coleridge reports, "having ground them down chewing on pen tops. I can't write without chewing pen tops, and, after writing nine novels, it had become a medical necessity."

Indeed, indeed. Coleridge is hardly the first important novelist to endure dental work on the strictest of medical grounds. We all know about Martin Amis, and there was gossip some years ago about the late Isaac Bashevis Singer, although this was never confirmed.

YET ANOTHER leading media figure to have had his Hampsteads seen to is Andrew Neil, and he continues to reap the rewards. His smiley performance in the pastiche of Is this the Way to Amarillo? that graces the title sequence of BBC1's The Week, in which he appears in an electric mauve smoking-jacket, is attracting the attention of casting directors both here and in the States. Andrew, who was placed on standby by the producers of Dr Who in case they failed to resolve the contractual row over reviving the Daleks, will fly to Los Angeles after the election for talks with William Morris.

FINALLY, THE NEWS of Gerald Kaufman is, I'm afraid, even worse than anticipated last week. The prospect of him losing the chairmanship of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee should John Birt's masterplan to scrap the department be accepted is, it transpires, irrelevant. An arcane Commons rule, we learn, disqualifies MPs from chairing a committee for more than three successive parliaments, ruling the old boy out automatically.

Needless to say, we are exploring ways of reversing this. In the meantime, the response to an appeal for work for Gerald, in a business or family, possibly as an au pair, if the worst should happen, has been pitiful to the point of non-existence. Does no one out there have a heart?

m.norman@independent.co.uk

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