The US presidential debates need British moderators

Deferential debates
Deferential debates
Image: Joe Raedle/Pool via AP
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American political interviewers have always seemed to me to be painfully deferential—as a Brit, I grew up watching long-time BBC host Jeremy Paxman snarl, scowl, and look generally incredulous at the nonsense coming out of politicians’ mouths.

Last night, Lester Holt did far better than his NBC colleague Matt Lauer in at least making some demands of the two candidates once he had them in front of him. But, particularly with Donald Trump, Holt would sometimes let the candidates roam off on a completely different subject, before finally following up a lot of hot air later.

It strikes me what American viewers really need is some moves from the Paxman playbook: if you avoid a question, he gnashes back like a pitbull; if you give a nonsense answer expect to be met with a withering glare.

Like when he infamously asked home secretary (and future Prime Ministerial candidate) Michael Howard the same question 12 times:

Or when he sardonically asked Prime Minister Tony Blair how the latter could claim to have old-fashioned values when his party was ”taking money from a pornographer?” Blair’s attempt to justify the donation since the donors owned a well-known tabloid, was met with, “they also own Horny Housewives, Mega Boobs, Posh Wives, [and] Skinny and Wriggly. Do you know what these magazines are like?”

(Starts at 0:45)

And when he repeatedly called media mogul, convicted fraudster, and member of the House of Lords Conrad Black (who, as it happens, has backed Donald Trump) a “criminal”:

Forget making America great again. What the US really needs is a dose of old-fashioned British scorn. Paxman himself, now sort of in retirement, has said he’d “love” to interview Donald Trump.