Watch this famous clip. It’s two minutes:
The clip is from May, 1997. Interviewing the conservative politician (later party leader) Michael Howard is the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman. The clip as edited invites you to enjoy the spectacle of Paxman, the presenter of Newsnight, asking Michael Howard the same question (“did you threaten to overrule him?”) twelve times before letting go without an answer.
I found the Paxman link in this excellent Dave Weigel column about Piers Morgan: Thank goodness Piers Morgan Live is dead. Some sources say Paxman later admitted that he was asked to stretch the interview out and had nothing else to ask about. I share it with PressThink readers only to append this comment:
Twelve times! Including some meta time on how rude it looked to keep asking. You almost never see that on American television. If David Gregory of NBC’s Meet the press follows up with the opposition leader once, he’s being bold. Twice: that’s considered aggressive. Three, four times on the same question: Gregory is making a point by being that insistent. At five repetitions of the question David Gregory would be out of ideas for pressing further, at six he would be out of air. “We’ll have to leave it there.”
For if he is paid for anything he is paid to know that the give-up-and-move-on point on Sunday morning political television is closer to three or four that it is to Paxman’s twelve consecutive tries at getting an answer from a politician. The guests in the green room know this too. Famously, they are from both sides. But the side they are all on, the guests as much as the host or presenter, as well as the producers in the control room, is the undisrupted flow of the broadcast itself. It has to keep moving. It can’t stop for the spectacle of eight, nine, ten repetitions of the same question without success. And that simple fact affects everything that appears on air.
The people who keep the show moving are on the same team, no matter for whom they say they play.