Newspaper article International New York Times

Combative BBC Anchor Exits News Program ; A Scourge of Wafflers, Jeremy Paxman Grilled Subjects for 25 Years

Newspaper article International New York Times

Combative BBC Anchor Exits News Program ; A Scourge of Wafflers, Jeremy Paxman Grilled Subjects for 25 Years

Article excerpt

Jeremy Paxman, the "Newsnight" anchor, was renowned for his refusal to accept waffling or platitudes from guests on his television program.

Famed for his combative questions, disdainful delivery and lack of deference, Jeremy Paxman, one of Britain's best-known broadcasters, made his last appearance Wednesday on the TV program he has dominated for a quarter of a century.

A scourge of obfuscating politicians, Mr. Paxman is renowned for his refusal to accept waffling or platitudes from lawmakers and once embarrassed a cabinet minister by asking him the same question 12 times.

Mr. Paxman, 64, has worked since 1989 as an anchor of "Newsnight," a BBC news and current affairs show that combines reporting with studio discussion and is broadcast each weeknight.

While the show has had several distinguished anchors during its lifetime, none has owned it like Mr. Paxman, some of whose interviews have entered broadcast mythology. Among the best known was an encounter in 1997 with Michael Howard, then Britain's home secretary.

Asked by Mr. Paxman whether he had threatened to overrule the head of the Prison Service, Derek Lewis, Mr. Howard gave a legalistic response -- only to be confronted with the same question 11 more times. Mr. Paxman later told The Guardian that he had unexpectedly been given more time for the interview than foreseen and could not think of more pertinent questions.

Mr. Howard made a good-natured cameo appearance on the show on Wednesday and was asked by Mr. Paxman: "And did you, Michael Howard?"

"No," replied Mr. Howard, "But feel free to ask another 11 times."

In 2003, during a discussion on the decision to invade Iraq, Mr. Paxman asked Prime Minister Tony Blair whether he had prayed together with President George W. Bush. "No, we don't pray together, Jeremy, no," replied Mr. Blair in a tone that suggested a combination of embarrassment and irritation.

With his world-weary and sometimes disdainful style, Mr. Paxman drew his share of criticism. In a blog post, Michael White, an assistant editor at The Guardian, wrote that the broadcaster represented both the best and the worst of the media elite. …

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