There’s something wrong with journalists today. Just look at Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s last interview with Quentin Tarantino.
It began with some amiable but rather suburban exchanges. Then Murthy asked, “How can you be so sure that there is no link between enjoying movie violence and enjoying real violence?” Not the first time that’s been asked, admittedly. But this time, Tarantino erupted into a spluttering rage. “I refuse your question,” he spat. “I’m not your slave and you’re not my master!” The square-headed Guru should have been roused for battle.
But Murthy wibbled “I’m just… I – I ca – can’t make you answer anything!”
“I refuse” brawled Tarantino.
“Th – I was just asking you why, th – that’s fine…” said Murthy in a high-pitched voice whilst fumbling with his papers; presumably looking for his broadcasting integrity back on page one.
Just a few moments previously, the amply-chinned director had been celebrating the “dialogue about slavery” that had arisen out of Django Unchained’s release. But he foamed at the mouth when asked to contribute to the debate that his films so ardently fuel. John Humphreys would have wasted no time in pointing out his hypocrisy, and probably would have rephrased the question into something louder and more antagonizing.
Once upon a time, journalists were allowed to bring their personalities to work. Now, delicately scripted and diplomatic Q&As have become popular. It all makes me rather teary-eyed when I realize that one day David Dimbleby will retire and there will be only a handful of gutsy, cantankerous old crones left in broadcasting who dare to make their subjects hot under the collar.
Of course, asking direct, sharp and searching questions of a carefully primed guest does not always win admirers, and I have friends who think of the old guard as arrogant, aggressive oafs. But the more docile breed of reporters, clutching a woolly microphone and wearing a smile that exactly replicates the impression given by a NICE biscuit couldn’t get a straight answer out of a ruler; even if they gave it the biscuit.
With broadcasters like this, in twenty years time the Today program will sound like Loose Women chatting over breakfast. Dispatches will look like Newsround. Jon Snow will turn into Jon Scattered-Showers with all the colour and charisma of John Major. Who then will be firing off the questions that pierce their victims’ smokescreen? Who will be probing their evasive subjects with the dexterity and menace of an airport security guard?
The two ages of broadcasting could be witnessed passing each other recently when a young journalist tottered up to Jeremy Paxman as he was leaving the BBC and trilled, “Do you have any comments about the Newsnight investigation?”
“No,” he replied. “Have you?”
The poor girl quavered lamely on, but soon her prey had left for lunch and her cameraman would go no further. Paxman called out some veteran advice over his shoulder that we could all take heed of: “Keep trying – I would.”