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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Did You Threaten to Overrule Him?

I've been noticing for a while now a tendency among some interviewers towards a somewhat combative attitude to their guests when I'm listening to or watching political programmes. It has its place, of course, and some of Jeremy Paxman's interviews are highly entertaining for that very reason. However, it seems that all too often the point is not to elicit information but to get the guest to say something -- anything -- he doesn't want to say. And I regret to inform you that RTÉ Radio's political discussion programme The Late Debate has joined the hallowed ranks of programmes that have me yelling at the presenter rather than the guests.

The format of the programme is simple; five or six guests and one presenter. Those guests are generally a few politicians from various sides and a couple of journalists. It's an entertaining, informative way of spending an hour while doing stuff that doesn't require one's full attention.

Or at least, it used to be.

Cormac Ó hEadhra, the latest presenter, is no Rachel English. And he's certainly no Jeremy Fucking Paxman.

He likes nothing better than to wait until he senses a hint of vagueness, whereupon he pounces. However justified the original comment may have been, Cormac's in there and we've got five minutes of "Just answer the question, minister". Said minister will constantly repeat what he's just said, changing some of the phrases and possibly adding a vacuous sentence or two. It's a waste of airtime. The presenter knows the situation, the guests all know the situation and the audience certainly knows the fucking situation. Irrespective of whether the hapless civil servant is trying to equivocate or elucidate, the listener has to put up with ten percent of the programme devoted to this nonsense.

I suppose one advantage is that it's a cue for putting the kettle on. In days of yore there was a specific time for this; the ad break. But when the podcast eventually comes down the tubes, it's ad-free (late and badly named to be sure, but I'm still very glad that it's available). Anyway, without the ads I just have to wait for Cormac to get on his high horse and it's time for liquids to either enter or leave the body.

But I digress.

To an tÚsal Ó hEadhra and his many fellow presenters: relax. The point of the programme isn't to generate headines in the following day's Irish Times. And if it is, you're doing it wrong. This constant cavilling over trivialities is precisely what you're being paid to ensure doesn't happen. If a speaker says something stupid, there are three or four other people around the table to pick up on it. Any one of them would be delighted to offer -- and more than capable of offering -- a dissenting opinion.  Your job is make sure it's orderly, and when appropriate to say "shut up". And to shut the fuck up.

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