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Many will have enjoyed the sight of Tory minister Chloe Smith being humiliated on yesterday’s edition of newsnight.
According to popular legend Jeremy Paxman is something of an anti establishment hero. By his sharp wit, and dogged persistence, he is able to bring the powerful to account. Unfortunately, the reality is a little more complex. As we can see in the above interview, uncomfortably pertinent lines of inquiry are mixed in with rather blunt rhetorical bluster. “Do you ever think that you’re incompetent?”, Mr Paxman illuminatingly asks the minister.
This is not unusual for Jeremy. Some will remember the time that he interviewed Clare Solomon, just after she had helped to lead the biggest student mobilisations in generations. Like the serious journalist that he is, he began by probing her about her age.
In many instances, this style of questioning would be seen to indicate the intellectual limitations of the interviewer. Yet a range of cultural signifiers – Paxman’s deep male voice, his perfected elocution, his waspy demeanour – help to ensure that such aggressive twattery instead comes across as mastery and power. Imagine the scorn that would be poured upon a young, black, female journalist who went around asking political leaders how old they were, and you will get what I mean.
Jeremy Paxman is undoubtedly a talented TV journalist. Yet the Paxman phenomenon – the great spectacle that his televised aggression has come to represent – this does not exist in a social or cultural vacuum. Paxman may utilise his intellectual and professional skill. But he also channels the ugly power of his caste.
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