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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 20:23 GMT
What is the point of Jeremy Paxman?


By Peter Barron
Newsnight editor

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    Was Jeremy Paxman right to suggest to an Oxbridge student handbook that there's no point in pursuing a career in the media?

    In my view, yes and no.

    The point is that neither Mr Davis nor Mr Cameron has descended from heaven to become leader of the Conservative Party
    He's absolutely right that the industry is underpaid and oversubscribed and encouraging more students to enter it will only lead to disappointment. But does he think the job itself is not actually worth doing?

    I remember being in a glass lift with Jeremy at a slick corporate law practice in Leeds on our way to interview Tony Blair for the Paxman Interviews during the General Election campaign.

    As the lift stopped, corporate lawyers bustled in and out with large box files and as it rose we saw whole floors of corporate lawyers doing what corporate lawyers do.

    Jeremy turned to me and said, "Aren't you glad we're doing what we're doing rather than what they're doing?"

    One man's Margaret...

    This week we were doing it again with David Davis and David Cameron.

    PAXMAN INTERVIEWS...
    David Cameron and David Davis

    You'd be amazed at how much preparation goes into these big interviews, on our side and theirs.

    Obviously, most thought goes into the questions and the answers, but apparently trivial issues like location can take on huge significance.

    We were determined from the outset to be scrupulously even-handed in our treatment of the two candidates. We made exactly the same offer to both - a 20 minute, as-live, uncut interview either in Newsnight's studio or at a mutually agreed location.

    David Davis wanted somewhere near Westminster - we suggested that favourite Tory hang-out the Carlton Club, and he happily accepted.

    Some - including Cameron's camp apparently - felt we'd set up Mr Davis by shooting him surrounded by portraits of Conservative elder statesmen, including an imperious Lady Thatcher.

    Modernising Mr Cameron wouldn't have been seen dead in such a setting, but Davis knew what buttons he was pressing.

    Cameron chose to be interviewed on the stump in Northampton. Having declined to appear in an admittedly rather baronial hall he plumped for an altogether more minimal red brick establishment.

    Tell me Mr Nazareth

    There was also a pre-match psychological skirmish of which Jose Mourinho would have been proud.

    Cameron's erudite lieutenant Michael Gove wrote a spoof in the Times in which Jeremy interviews Jesus of Nazareth:

    JP: Judas Iscariot is one of your key supporters. His name is on your campaign literature... But now he says you lack the necessary zealotry to transform Judea and Samaria for the better. That's a pretty damning criticism isn't it?

    Of course Newsnight would have wanted to do a probing interview with the Son of God - as we say, it's a great aston (that's the name caption that appears on the screen).

    But Jeremy would have had some pretty robust lines of questioning for Pontius Pilate, too, and would certainly have pressed Peter at least three times on those denials.

    Up to the job?

    The point Michael Gove misses is that, despite their undoubted charms, neither Mr Davis nor Mr Cameron has descended from heaven to become leader of the Conservative Party.

    They are standing for high public office and it's right that they should be subjected to detailed scrutiny of their principles and policies.

    In a few weeks' time one of them will be leader of the Opposition and, in a couple of years, perhaps Prime Minister.

    He'll face withering exchanges at the dispatch box and if elected Prime Minister torrid crises at home and abroad.

    Voters surely want to know if their man is up to it or if he might crumble. Our job on these occasions is to try to find out.

    I'd say that's a job worth doing.


    WATCH JEREMY PAXMAN'S 2005 PRE-ELECTION INTERVIEWS



    WATCH THIS WEEK'S PROGRAMME HIGHLIGHTS




    SEE ALSO:
    Could you do better?
    11 Nov 05 |  Newsnight Home
    Smears, the Sun and squirrels
    04 Nov 05 |  Newsnight Home



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