3 April 2010

Is James Naughtie the most long-winded interviewer in broadcasting history?

At one point during one of this morning's interviews on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, I began wondering whether James Naughtie would ever get to the end of the question he was asking.

It reminded me of how often the garrulous Mr Naughtie has had this effect on me, and got me wondering whether I'm alone in wondering why the BBC lets one of their top interviewers ask questions that are often longer (and less coherent) than the answers he elicits from his interviewees.

So I found it quite reassuring to discover from a quick Google search that you don't have to look far to find comments about his long-winded style of questioning. Nor did it take long to come across some fine exhibits (HERE), and the following specimens are reproduced in ascending order of length.

I haven't timed how quickly Mr Naughtie speaks. But if we assume that it's somewhere around the average conversational speed of 170-180 words per minute, it would have taken him more than a minute to get to the end of the longest of these (184 words).

Is this another example, I wonder, of the BBC's apparent preference for allocating more time to its own staff than to the people we'd rather be listening to - that I blogged about a few days ago (HERE)?

Q: What's very interesting here is that we're very quickly back into the arguments, which are quite familiar about the reasons for war. And let me suggest to you, Secretary of State, that the reason these arguments are still quite fresh in people's minds a few years on is because they realize this has been a campaign attended by mistakes. Of course, there were people thought it was a bad idea completely. But even those who said, well, maybe this is the way to deal with Saddam. Look at John Sawer's, who's political director now of the Foreign Commonwealth Office, his assessment in May 2003 just after the invasion about what the American forces were doing there: no leadership, no strategy, no coordination, no structure and inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis. Now that was the Pentagon in Iraq. That was a mistake (140 words).

Q: But you see, the problem that we've got is that we know about Guantanamo and we know that Mr. Gonzales who is now the Attorney General has said in one famous remark in a previous incarnation with the White House that he thought the Geneva Conventions were "quaint" and they didn't really deal with the situation we've got. And we know, talking about the American Administration, we know that 500 people have been for varying lengths of time in Guantanamo Bay without the trials and the protections that would normally be given under your jurisdiction and ours. And people say, well hold on, if this is a model war, if these are for high ideals, if this is for the spread of the liberal democracy of which you speak here, how can that be? You're breaking your own code of conduct? (141 words)

Q: To the Foreign Secretary in one second, but on the question of why we went to war, yes, it was said Saddam was a bad man who was a force for instability. No question about that. But the American people were told pretty straightforwardly we're in the business -- the American Administration -- of regime change. The British people were told something quite different and very distinctly different; that if it wasn't for the WMD than the whole game would be different. Now we know that those weapons didn't exist in the way that we were told they existed. And Mr. Blair tonight persistently -- that the argument in Britain was about regime change, and yet we now know don't we because of the arguments that went on and the leaks we've had from the discussions in Washington that Mr. Blair's party was regime change all along (147 words).

Q: But the question is not whether liberal democracy -- you talked about this in your lecture on the eve of this program -- is a good thing or a bad thing, as most people in this country, as in yours, think it is a desirable state. The question is how you go about bringing it. Now let me remind you and I'm sure you know these words from President Bush himself in the presidential debate just before he was elected October 2000. He said, if we're an arrogant nation, they will resent us -- speaking about the United States. Now the problem is that many people who try to look at this fair-mindedly, look for example at the question of extraordinary rendition, people taken to third countries where there may be practices that amount under international convention as to torture and they know that they go through our airspace. And the government said, well, really request every time -- a permission is requested every time this happens. Is a rendition flight only allowed through our airspace if the British Government has been informed? (184 words).

... and I bet no one's bothered to read all the way down to here!

16 comments:

Rich Watts said...

YES! Of course, what's worse is that, within about 3 words of the interviewee trying to answer, Naughtie is back in again with an interruption. On those rare occasions he actually lets an interviewee speak, all you can hear is Naughtie sighing...

He's compellingly awful.

Weygand said...

The interviewee is only a device by which Naughtie disseminates his own wisdom.

His windbaggery and habit of giving his own answer before the question means the 'expert' rarely has a chance to say much and that little is limited by the elaborate context in which it has been presented.

I'm pleased to know I'm not the only one he infuriates - and in my case sometimes to the point of switching the Today programme off.

Tyranosaurus said...

I read all the way down, but then I was looking for an actual question and didn't find one till the very last line of the final one.

It would be quite entertaining for the interviewee to sit quietly at the end of all that and when Naughtie follows up with "why don't you answer?" he could reply "Sorry, I was waiting for a question"

alastair said...

Begs the question why is he still employed - either at all!? or in that particular job?

Max Atkinson said...

It's very encouraging to learn from all these that I'm not the only one being driven to despair by Mr Naugtie's windbaggery.

In case you haven't seen it, there's another comment on Iain Dale's Daley Dozen, on which this post was listed, that goes as follows:

'Would someone start a petition to the BBC to get rid of Mr Naughtie?

'His default position is to invert the normal interview process by giving the (his) answer to his own question before his interviewee has the chance to speak.

'Should anyone have the temerity to express their own view, he immediately interrupts them with his next me me me.

'He reminds me of some aged cockerel in a hen coop - time for a chicken casserole.'

The Laughing Cavalier said...

Just as bad is Jonathan Dimblebore on Any Questions (long known to my family as "Bigot's Half Hour"). Although he is, ostensibly, the moderator of this programme he interjects so frequently with his own opinions that he is almost a fifth panelist.

Anonymous said...

I switched off from the Today programme ages ago because I couldn't stand James Naughtie any more. He is a truly dreadful interviewer. Maybe he has a clause in his contract whereby he gets paid per number of words he speaks?!

chris said...

You're speaking for the truly Great Ignored here: I too find Naughtie long-winded, pompous and ingratiating to anyone in power.
The late Humphrey Lyttleton put it well: "I got up this morning, had a shave, listened to Jim Naughtie ask a question, had another shave..."

Anonymous said...

I used to fantasise about Jim and his windbaggery, lying in bed in the morning lulled by the melodic cadences of that Aberdonian accent. I've even been on Book Club 3 times. Then I read these comments, and now I find myself all out of love. Why did they even bother inviting Paddy on the 8.10 today, because for every word he uttered, Jim interrupted with about 3,000 more. Who can I stalk now?

Anonymous said...

Windbaggery would simply place him in the Magnus Pike school of tedium, but his apalling (lets be honest)stinted accent and ostentatious grammar school mentality is really so irritating and why he must be dumped. The English should not have to pay such a high price for a united kingdom. HE,S awful,awful awful, such a turn- off, and really gets the country off to a terrible start , surely he must be responsible for a portion of the depression hanging over this land.

Squidblaster said...

Naughtie is worse than just long-winded. After a long period just hoping he would eventually be shelved I now have to turn off the Today prog when he's on. It's the bumptiousness of the man I can't stand: the worse crime characteristic of the 21st century, particularly of males of a certain age, is to have a deluded view as to how valuable your opinions are, to be a "media whore" in other words. Presenters on the Today prog are in really quite a powerful position, especially as it seems BBC managers are convinced, as in other areas, that the dumbo punters have some sort of infantile affinity with the personalities. That Jenny Murray, for example, who has sat in that Woman's Hour chair for something incredible like 4 decades, has a special, reassuring place in our (women's?) hearts. But Naughtie, with that vile "burr", and his "wide-ranging" interests (read "spread very thin") is just terrible. Please, please, please, less is more... just a little bit less of this national treasure would be so much ... more.

Alan Firth said...

I actually like James Naughtie, despite his sometimes lengthier 'questions'. The point is, I think, that Naughtie is having a 'conversation' as much as doing an interview. And even when his comments are lengthy, they are - to me and, it would appear, his interviewees - coherent, cogent, and helpful. From a wider perspective, Naughtie is a superb radio journalist - his regular reports 'in the field' are often quite brilliant - long may he continue!

Anonymous said...

I know it might be early in the morning and I'm probably having an emotional response but I can't, can't, can't listen to his windbaggery any more.

Is Mr Naughtie a short man?

The verbal posturing, the relish in his own Aberdeen accent, the questions that never seem to end. And when, or even if they do, it's often with a whhhisping "wHHHy?" or on one occasion with the words "...chief wHHHi..... P!" to stunned silence from his interviewee.

I can't give up on Today. But I despair.

Anonymous said...

You pompous old windbag. Jim Naughtie has more talent in his pinkie than you do. If you think you can do better, get a job as an anchor on the Today Programme and let's hear you.

Anonymous said...

No, Anonymous, the loathsome James Nokkertie is an irksome, pompous, self-opiniated old man without any talent whatever except spouting his mouth off, and interrupting anyone who threatens to take attention away from him. Almost as if he were in his second childhood, in fact. The phrase verbal diarrhoea could have been invented for him.
"get a job as an anchor", eh? Are you perhaps FROM the BBC? The reality is that jobs like this aren't that difficult, but climbing the greasy pole requires all sorts of tricksy talents...

Litesp33d said...

I listened to Naughtie this morning on Today, humiliate a non political interviewee who came into the studio to talk about the recent release of slave data because she had the temerity to correct an often repeated historical misinformation that Britain abolished slavery in 1807. The interviewees demeanor changed audibly after Naughties nasty, unwarranted, arrogant comment. I have felt this about him for some time and this time intend to write to the DG and also the BSC about this. I found this site by a 5 second search on the web and am glad to see that I am not the only person who feels this way about him. He is an arrogant, misogynist, windbag full of sycophancy for those parts of British society for which he feels an affinity which seem to be the Monarchy, Religion and somewhat inconsistently, based upon the previous two, Labour politics.