The grand inquisitor of British TV news, Jeremy Paxman, has announced that he is quitting the BBC Channel Two's Newsnight, where he grilled politicians pitilessly for 25 years, the BBC reports.
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Paxman became the "great lion of BBC journalism [who] never failed to ask the difficult questions," said James Harding, the BBC's head of news, after Wednesday's announcement.
This was certainly true in his encounters with Israelis. After Israeli bombs killed Gazans outside a UN school during Operation Cast Lead (the UN said 41 civilians and one Hamas combatant was killed, the IDF put the death toll at nine Hamas combatants and three civilians), Paxman hammered away at Mark Regev, spokesman for the Prime Minister's office.
"You have been told where all the UN facilities were you knew what the consequences would be," Paxman said. Regev held his own, maintaining that Hamasniks had commandeered the school to fire at Israeli soldiers, and that the soldiers had the right to fire back.
"Regardless of how many civilians may be killed?" Paxman asked, poker-faced.
When Israeli Ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub made the case to Paxman in 2012 for why the world could not allow Iran to become a "nuclear weapons regime," Paxman lobbed back, "And you're speaking to us as a nuclear weapons regime." As Taub launched into the standard Israeli non-explanation of its nuclear capability, Paxman interrupted, "That's another thing you don't talk about." And when Taub protested that Israel, unlike Iran, "was not threatening to take another country off the map," Paxman interjected, "You are threatening Iran right now."
Then there was Paxman's encounter with British diplomat Peter Gooderman, who had joined a 2009 walkout on then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a UN conference on racism in Geneva, following the Iranian's casting of doubt on the authenticity of the Holocaust.
"What is the difference between Zionism and racism?" Paxman asked. Gooderman began to reply, "Well, we see the two as being quite different," when Paxman cut in, "Yeah, what's the difference?" Gooderman continued that "Zionism is a political movement " and Paxman suggested, "So are some forms of racism."
But in a joint interview about the recent SodaStream/Scarlett Johansson controversy, Paxman showed that he was more the devil's advocate than the ideologue. In a February program, he grilled an Oxfam official at least as hard about objecting to the SodaStream plant in the West Bank as he did the SodaStream CEO about the plant being in occupied territory.
At one point, Paxman drolly put the question to Oxfam's Ben Phillips: "How much did you pay Scarlett Johansson for this ad, as a matter of interest?" He was one skilled provocateur.