Monday, 12 April 2010

no, john humphrys

I caught the tail-end of John Humphrys doing a pointlessly antagonistic interview this morning. The interviewee said something along the lines of, 'We intend to make cuts–'

'Hope,' Humphrys interrupted. 'Not "intend". There's a difference.'

Yes, there is a difference. But I don't think it's the one John means. Just conceivably he was saying, 'You might not get in, so let's couch this conversation in the conditional,' which might follow logically, though it would be an utterly facile and pointless thing to say - I mean, we all get that elections are conditional events - but from the rest of the interview, I don't think that is what Humphrys was getting at.

I think Humphrys was trying to say that this guy might not be able to achieve what he says he wants to achieve. But that didn't follow from his clever-clever comment. It's not like he simply said, 'You're lying, you're not going to try.' He conceded the 'hope', and how can that hope be disentangled from the intention to try, and how can that be disentangled from simple 'intention'? It's a schoolboy-debating trick - something the shape of forensic rhetoric which, unpacked, has no content at all.*

Why am I shouting this into a void? By which I mean, 'Why am I shouting this to a load of blog readers who, if they listen to the Today Programme, are almost certainly already incensed by John Humphrys's hectoring style and better than me at dissecting it?' It is because sometimes John Humphrys makes me want to shout into the void.

*Do correct me if I have made a massive logical error here, by the way. I am capable of this.


Marie said...

I think you're maybe being slightly unfair to JH. In this context there's an important difference between 'hope' and 'intend'. 'Intend' sounds like they are actually going to do it if they get in. 'Hope' is just 'it would be nice if we could'. Makes a lot of difference to the voter.

Robert Hudson said...

Fair point. That's what I think he's getting at, definitely. But it also sounded like he was trying to be clever with language, and pin his interviewee down with his laser-like precision. In terms of forensic precision, I don't think he has much of a case, which is annoying, because it distracted from the possibility of a sensible discussion, which he certainly didn't get once the pair were flailing about in the semantics. Why couldn't he just say, 'Well, saying you intend to do make cuts is easy, but just how are you going to manage it? How big a priority is it? What services will be lost as a result?'

Salvador said...

In general though these "I'm going to be a touch interviewer" moments are getting a bit tiresome. I heard the head of BBC3 being interviewed about the decision to use Lindsay Lohan to front a programme on child-trafficking. Whatever one thinks of that, the head of BBC3 was making the kind of predictable case but from the tone of the Today interviewer it was as if he was suggesting the establishment of a Fourth Reich. Ultimately it just becomes counter-productive. He kept demanding Paxman-like that Danny Cohen give him specific examples of programmes fronted by celebs that didn't work and Cohen kept saying - reasonably enough - that he wouldn't single out specific programmes on air. In the end I had more sympathy for the interviewee and, as you say, nothing was illuminated.

Salvador said...

Sorry that should obviously read tough in the first line!!! Touching wouldn't work on the radio.