John Humphrys

My radio comes on every morning with Radio 4’s Today programme. For me, it used to be essential breakfast time listening. Now, more often than not, if I hear John Humphrys’ voice, I have an urge to either turn the radio off, or throw it out the window.

I used to like John Humphrys. I believe that there was a time when he was an truly incisive penetrating journalist. However, I feel he has now simply become pure ego, drunk on his own reputation, and given to interupting and haranguing every other word.

Think of him as Paxman’s mini-me.

There is a time and a place for combative interviewing. When a politian is repeatedly avoiding a important question, then it is the interviewer’s job to focus on what is not being said, and either get an answer, or make it clear to the listeners that the interviewee is being evasive.

However, when the question is inane or ill-conceived, it becomes tiresome, especially if the interviewer is actually giving information that is of interest to the listener.

The case in point today was Humprys interviewing the new Conservative Home Secretary, Theresa May. about the Tory election pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act. As the LibDem coalition partners support the act, this is now looking doubtful, or in Theresa May’s words: “We’re talking about it at the moment. That’s part of the process. That’s what the new politics is about, it’s about actually talking together and agreeing an approach that is right and in the national interest.”

He kept coming back to the point that if the Torys had made such a commitment in their manifesto, then they were betraying the people that voted for them by dropping that commitment. “Have you sold out your supporters?” he asked.

May commented that the nature of a coalition is that they have to compromise, which means that they have to pick their fights – she even gave examples of policies that *had* made it through to the Tory/LibDem policy. Still Humphrys persisted, insisting that “if you have an area <...> where they say ‘we want *this* to be done’ and you say ‘we want *that* to be done’, in the end <...> you have to say ‘sorry, we are the major party here <...> we, in the end, will do what we want to do, and if you don’t like it, sorry you’ll have to lump it'”.

While I was shouting at the radio, “No, because they don’t have a bloody mandate, you tosspot!”, she calmly suggested that he didn’t understand the nature of a coalition.

Outside of politics, I don’t think such techniques are at all appropriate when dealing with other types of news stories, but John Humprys has his one style, and he sticks to it. Often you will have two interviewees on a story who Humphrys thinks should be at odds with each other (hence why they are both invited on the show). When they turn out to have more ideas in agreement than not, you can hear Humphreys get more and more agitated, and he will prod and poke them both trying to start a fight between them.

The man is a dinosaur, and should retire. Given that my natural inclination in politics leans towards Labour, when Humphrys annoys me for being rude to a Tory who I really don’t care that much for, I *know* he has lost it, big-time.

Either that, or I have. Form your own decision:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8691000/8691285.stm

15 Comments

  1. I got to that point with Radio 4 in general long ago. I know the world is turning to crap; I don’t need to be woken up with progress reports on the crapulisation process.

    I must admit that I would have wanted to try to get some kind of an admission from Ms May along those lines as well (because I am quite sure that they intend to carry out that pledge as soon as public opinion can be made to seem to support it, and the LibDems will indeed have to lump it), but the technique was wrong, certainly, and is probably more concerned with making “good radio” (in the sense that Jerry Springer et al are “good television”) than with getting at the truth.

    In the end, Conservative Central Office will be pleased, because one of their lot got to look like the innocent victim of an out-of-control presenter.

    • chris
      May 19, 2010

      I actually want to know just how in the crap we are, which is why I listen to it. What I don’t want to know is how much in the crap does John Humpry’s wants to pretend we are in, for his own self-aggrandisement.

      Regarding the Human Rights Act, I don’t see what the Tories can do about it. If the LibDems vote against the government (which they are entitled to do, as the issue is not in their joint policy statement), any attempted repeal will fail, simple as that. Doesn’t matter whether they intend to carry out the pledge or not, they don’t have the votes on their own.

      In fact, I don’t think May was hiding the fact that if they thought they could persuade the LibDems, they would go through with it. She repeatedly said that “nothing has been decided” on that matter, but it was still subject to discussion – i.e. horse-trading.

      Would the LibDems do a deal? For nothing less than Tory support for full proportional representation, I suspect, and even then, I don’t think it would be worth it.

      • May 19, 2010

        I don’t either. So I can’t help wondering why they’re discussing it. And then I get depressed, because I don’t believe they have given up on the idea, which means they have some kind of plan to get their way. I don’t know what it is, but I’m quite convinced they have one, or they would have just sat back in the safety of opposition and watched Labour and the others struggle to cobble together a government, knowing that next time they’d get a landslide. If they’ve gone with this coalition, it’s because they know a way around it.

        It’s arguable that I’m actually no longer entirely sane where Conservative politicians are concerned, and if that’s true it’s a direct result of being exposed to news on a regular basis. Which is why I try to avoid it.

      • May 19, 2010

        I can’t help wondering why they’re discussing it
        I can’t decide if that’s cynicism, or just that you disagree with what that party wants and hope that the magic LibDem fairy will make the world better (sorry if that sounds demeaning, couldn’t think quickly of better words to describe what I want to say).

        Basically, the Tory party ran on a manifesto that included that as a clear policy they wanted to get passed if they were selected. And a lot of people voted for them, and they won a lot of seats. Therefore *tory supporters* have said that’s what they expect from a Tory government.

        But we don’t have a pure Tory government, we have a coalition that is 5:1 Tory (roughly). Certain areas have been clearly spelled out whether the coalition does the Tory view, or the LibDem view, or a mix of the two. And all the other areas are up for discussion.

        This is true of *all* Tory manifesto policies, and to a lesser extent, to all those areas that will come up that aren’t listed in the manifestos or coalition agreement.

        I believe that the plan is not to abolish all human rights in the UK (you may have doubts on that!) but to replace the Human Rights Act with other legislation … and that’s where the coalition has its power … if the LibDems say “we will support abolishing the Human Rights Act, but only if you support a replacement bill that guarantees the following safeguards ….” then the Tories may actually be over a mini-barrel as they have committed in their manifesto to get rid of the scary bogeyman of the HRA, and if the only way of achieving that is to end up with *better* human rights laws that the LibDems push forward, then they may have to take that horsetrade.

        So we *could* (seems unlikely of course!) end up with better protection if the Tories succeed in killing the existing HRA.

        But then I have a rose-tinted glasses factory and always test my products on myself first!

      • May 19, 2010

        I don’t believe anyone will make things any better. I don’t even believe anyone wants to make things any better. (And yes, it kind of did.)

        What I meant was that if it’s true that the LibDems would not consider dropping the HRA for anything less that a commitment to full PR, and the Tories know this, I can’t see why they are still talking to each other about it. Assuming, of course, that they really are.

        There is no cynic more cynical than a disappointed idealist.

      • May 19, 2010

        What I meant was that if it’s true that the LibDems would not consider dropping the HRA for anything less that a commitment to full PR,
        They may be talking to discover whether that is true, or whether the LibDems would consider dropping the HRA for something else or a basket of something else’s. Would the LibDems drop the HRA in exchance for the Tories dropping Trident (gently, onto a pillow, no boom today!) or for the Tories supporting a higher minimum wage plus other valuable prizes or something else?

        Until they talk they don’t *know* what is true, and coalition is about compromise and horse dealing. The LibDems want PR, but are they willing to swop *all* their other principles for that? Don’t know. The LibDems want other things as well that they have compromised on, are any or all of those other things “worth” HRA? Don’t know.

        And they probably don’t *know* either until there’s a proposal on the table saying “we want this, you want that, can we make a deal?”

        And the answer might be “no”, but unless you ask, you can’t be sure of the answer.

        All in IMHO of course.

        And it looks like I might be back on the road car-wise, so we have to sort out when I return your music kit.

      • May 19, 2010

        Well said, sir.

        The “new politics” that Clegg has been talking about ever since the pre-election debates, and indeed well before that, as indeed his party and their supporters (e.g. me!) have been advovating and dreaming of *FOR DECADES*, is the kind where politicians have to actually talk *to* each other, *and listen to each other*, rather than just jumping to conclusions about each other and hiding behind party identity.

        (Of sourse, in reality there’s always been more of that going on than the general public tend to be aware of, ‘cos they only get the adversarial bits played out on the primetime news, and you have to be a bit of a political nerd to want to spend all day with the parliament channel on in the background, half-listening to a room full of people discussing the consequences of some proposal or other *mostly* in a quite calm and intelligent manner. I’ve even been known to use it as a sleep aid… =:o} )

        Unfortunately, a lot of the public, and most of the political commentators, just can’t get their heada aournd this idea. Thus we get all the nonsense about “Clegg flip-flopping over dealing with the Conservatives or Labour” (Um, no, that was a *process of negotiation*. Processes of negotation take time, and involve talking to all relevant parties to find out what they want, what they’re offering, and whether a deal is (a) possible (b) the best option available. In this case there was a clearly established principle that determined who Clegg should talk to *first* – not who he should talk to exclusively! As it turned out, by the time he got to talking to the second bunch not only had things gonesurprisinly well with the first bunch, but a large faction within the second bunch had apparently decided they didn’t *want* a deal anyway.)

      • chris
        May 19, 2010

        “As it turned out, by the time he got to talking to the second bunch not only had things gonesurprisinly well with the first bunch, but a large faction within the second bunch had apparently decided they didn’t *want* a deal anyway.)”

        I suspect that by then the penny had dropped that it would be better to be in opposition than be (a) in power, but without the power; (b) blamed for the financial actions that will be coming our way.

  2. May 19, 2010

    I’ve noticed the same problem with him but at the moment I don’t get to hear him every day so it is not bugging me as much.

    • I’ve been noticing it with other interviewers as well … interrupting answers whether or not the interviewee is in the process of answering the question … asking the same question again if they didn’t like the answer etc. For each time they “break” someone and get them to say something they shouldn’t, the other 9 or 99 times they piss of the interviewee *and* the audience.

      Sure, if someone is deliberately not answering the question, then I’d allow one reask, and then I’d be happy for the interviewer to baldly state “well, since you won’t or can’t give a clear answer on that, let’s move onto the next question.

      • May 19, 2010

        I might allow two re-asks (sometimes the interviewee is just trying to build up a background to their answer). But yes, the Paxman/Humphrys idea of “I (as interviewer) have a point which I want to make and get the answer I like and I’ll push it until I get there” just annoys everyone. The interviewer is there to get answers, not just the answers he likes.

        I prefer to get my “current affairs” information via textual media, that way I can see that the person writing an article is being an idiot (or very biased or whatever) and just skip it (hit ‘back’ or whatever) and not have to sit through it to get to the next item..

  3. May 19, 2010

    I really dislike that way of interviewing as well. And the attitude of “If the conservatives or lib dems don’t do everything in their manifestos they are betraying people”. It’s a coalition!

    I find it depressing that, as May has two roles, even when she is talking about equality related things she will be referred to as Home Secretary only much of the time, disappearing the role of equality minister as important. But that’s my own little rant (and really not even part of my disagreement with her as individually in that role).

  4. I don’t listen to Radio 4 and I’ve never thought much of John Humphrys either, so I’m not really having an issue here in the way that you are. I do however think that certain people believe that they’re more important than everyone else, and that they’re the show when that’s not actually the case. An interviewer is an interviewer (the clue is in the name) and a chat show host is there to chat. It would seem in this case JH really isn’t quite sure what he should be doing – OR that he’s aware of what he’s doing and doesn’t care about anyone else. It would seem that he’s certainly as bad as that vile Paxman creature, so a plague on all their houses!

  5. May 20, 2010

    That was the impression I got from the interviews I saw, yes. Plus even with the full “Rainbow Alliance” they would only just have had a majority (with Sinn Fein not sitting), making it very easy for them to lose votes in the House with only a few abstaining or voting against party.

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