Classic John Humphrys

By cjohnson | August 12, 2005 3:29 am

john humphrys Despite my earlier remarks about certain frustrating aspects of the political process in the UK, I do remain impressed with other aspects. One of them is the fact that the politicians are expected to take part in extremely penetrating live interviews, where they have no (detailed) advance warning of the subject or the questions. The other thing I like is that fact that the morning radio – in particular the Today Programme on the BBC’s Radio 4 – is the primary medium for this sort of serious political discussion, and as a member of the government, politicians in high office have to rise to the challenge of being interviewed in this format on a regular basis. And oh yes, it can be a bit of a blood sport sometimes listening to a politician’s arguments being dissected live on prime time morning radio. One of the most skilled – probably the most skilled – surgeons in this realm of journalism is John Humphrys. (Pictured above right in a photo I cheekily lifted from the BBC site, but only to point back to it.)

Today, the 8:10am interview on Today was with John Reid, the Defence Secretary, and the interviewer was John Humphrys, and the subject? Iraq, the National Assembly, and the constitution. John Reid started out by talking about the “positive” things that have been going on in Iraq as a result of the invasion and Humphrys (sometimes a bit hasty to draw blood, but in classic form) sets out at a running pace – questioning and probing relentlessly. John Reid rallies well in places, too, and so it is not all one sided. It becomes one of the most heated and passionate interviews on the subject I’ve heard for a long time, (informed with recent concerns like the London bombings, the ongoing insurgency attacks and civilian casualties, and broadened out to discuss connecting issues; and with mention and discussion of some of the statements of the late Robin Cook), since journalists seem to have forgotten how to ask hard questions about these matters over here in the USA. Come to think of it, they seldom ask the politicians anything remotely like a hard question over here (which includes putting it again and again until they get an answer).

This is just great stuff. Important stuff.

Please listen, if only to remind yourself what it really should be like: That we should have people asking hard questions about what’s going on in our name. Do listen, if only to pretend that you’re asking some of those questions. It’s as close as most of us will ever get to putting these questions directly.

This is the audio stream, and this is a direct download of an mp3, and here’s the podcast link to get the regular daily (Mon-Sat) 8:10am interview. If these links eventually die, find links to some archives, and also to the 8:10 interview link, on this page for the Today Programme.

Finally, please download or podcast it soon because the dear old BBC still are deciding to just what extent allow you access to much in the way of archives, and so I’m not sure how easy it will be to find the program after 24 hours. But do try to find it in the Today Programme’s archives if you see this late.

I hope that you find it interesting.


  • Cameron


    The US political system would really benefit from a more penetrating press corp. It is amazing how timid they have become. The best format I have seen that requires polititians to be honest and quick on their feet are town hall meetings, especially when they are live on a major news network. Get a mixed group of citizens of all ages and background, and you will get some very good questions that politicians can’t duck or spin. We need to see more of that. And thanks for the link.

  • DrMax

    Imagine Bush sitting down across from Humphrys. Gad they would have to throw the President a personal floatation device to keep him from drowning in his own flop sweat. And of course Fox would start attacking Humphrys within seconds of the interview for not showing our coddled leader the proper respect.

  • Mark

    Nice link Clifford – I subscribed to the podcast also.

  • Clifford

    Yes, DrMAx! Or imagine (more equivalently) Rumsfeld being subjected to this level of questioning. I’d pay decent money to hear that!


  • Eugene

    Hear hear. I’ve spent my formative years listening to BBC World service on shortwave as a teenager. When I was in UK, the live interviews are the high points of the evening news! Jeremy Paxman rules!

  • Clifford

    Eugene. Thanks so much! That is one of the classic Paxman interviews, where he dissects Blair over the case for going to war in Iraq, and I’d heard it back then, but did not know there was a transcript available. Thans for passing on the link! Fantastic…..


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  • Gordon Chalmers

    So Clifford, do you think I can get paid this year, or should I amongst other things, write another twenty papers before Christmas.

  • Gordon Chalmers



    will pay me.

  • Clifford

    Gordon, once again you’re spoiling a thread of discussion with irrelevant matters. I ask you again, nicely, Please, Please, Stop This. It derails discussion, does not endear you to the other readers, and certainly is not going to contribute positively to the issue that you seem to be concerned about. You’re a rational and intelligent person. Ask yourself if there is any point to this, please.



  • Cathy

    It’s interesting, but I don’t think that American journalists have become timid. I think instead they are operating under the false idea that journalism can be objective. Therefore, they are afraid to push issues in fear that it might reflect their own opinion. If they do show an opinion, they are shot down as either far right wing or ultra liberal. No US politicians have had to face this kind of questioning because no “serious” journalist wants to be seen as influencing a story. They leave it to the editorial page and the politicians get off scott free.

  • Clifford

    Hmm….. I think you’re a bit generous to them Cathy. I know of several cases (recall the election last year) where several known inconvenient facts are simply not put to a politician, and instead you just get “softball” content-free questions. (As a result, several facts get forgotten or just don’t make it to the mainstream, and then we wonder why the populace appears to make strange electoral decisions….as you say “and the politicians get off scott free”.) There is a long way they can go before even being within several miles of appearing partisan or biased on a given issue. Believe it or not, but the BBC journalists such as Humphrys and Paxman (see the transcript of the Blair interview mentioned above) are not known to have a particular political preference….in fact they are expressly forbidden from expressing it by their employer. Both journalists were vigourously putting their questions forcefully, but are still regarded by most as impartial. They beat up on politicians from both sides of the issue regularly actually. Listening to a week’s worth of the 8:10 Interview shows that quite readily.




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