Guest blog: Should Eddie Mair have put 'bumbling Boris' on the spot? Of course - it's what journalists are for
Last Sunday, Boris Johnson was interviewed by Eddie Mair on BBC's Andrew Marr show. The quizzing has since made headlines with Mair coming under attack for his 'disgusting' questioning.
Here, Mumsnet Blogger Pint Sized Rants argues that she wouldn't have it any other way - particularly with an interviewee as 'skilled at deflecting difficult questions' as Boris.
What do you think of the interview? Was Eddie Mair just doing his job? Have your say, and share any blog posts on the subject, on our Talk thread.
I am used to cringing when Boris Johnson speaks on TV. His regular TV appearances induce an "oh no, what is he going to say now?", amused, embarrassed kind of feeling. I am not used, however, to cringing on his behalf, as was the case during his tough grilling by Eddie Mair during the Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning. I almost felt sorry for London's Mayor as he was apparently unexpectedly reminded of, and quizzed upon, several alleged misdemeanours from his past. Almost.
"I don't propose to go into all that again," muttered Boris Johnson.
"I don't blame you," was the cutting reply from Eddie Mair.
I, and no doubt many others, winced on the Mayor's behalf - but the assault continued, culminating in Eddie Mair's "you're a nasty piece of work aren't you?" which has made headlines since.
The BBC is renowned for its tough interviewers. But was Mair's grilling of Boris Johnson justified - or was it, as Boris's father said yesterday, "one of the most disgusting pieces of journalism I have listened to for a very long time"? Just how far should journalists go in their questioning of politicians or other guests, especially on live television? Mair has since come into a fair amount of criticism. It was a harsh question, but in context understandable - they were talking about a phone conversation in which Boris Johnson agreed to hand over a journalist's address to a friend, so that this friend could arrange for the journalist to be assaulted. Whatever the circumstances, and however much Johnson now says he was just humouring his friend, and that nothing ever happened - it is hardly the typical conversation of a nice piece of work.
Boris Johnson likes to come across as a lovable, bumbling toff with uncontrollable hair, the kind of guy you think would be a great dinner party guest, or someone to have a drink with. He gets himself into scrapes, getting stuck on a zip wire or falling into rivers. He is witty, charismatic - and appears to say what he thinks without worrying about the consequences. He says things, does things, which would destroy any other politician's career. With Boris, though, journalists and public alike are amused, and shake their heads as if gently reprimanding a particularly cheeky but adorable child. He hides his intelligence - and the drive, ambition and ruthlessness which all politicians need to get to the top of their game.
Here in France, people are more likely to be able to name the Mayor of London than the Prime Minister of the UK. He comes onto chat shows, speaks in reasonably good French with a very British accent, and the people love him. The toughest question he has had over here has been "do you want to be the next PM?" and he responded, in French, with his usual answer about being more likely to be decapitated by a frisbee or being reincarnated as an olive. And how they laughed.
Indeed, until Sunday he has very rarely if ever been quizzed so aggressively at home or abroad. His skill at deflecting difficult questions puts even other politicians to shame. And journalists laugh at, and with him. On Sunday it seemed like Eddie Mair was trying to whip away the wool which has been pulled over our eyes and get to the truth. Was he right to put "bumbling Boris" on the spot like that? Of course he was. It is what broadcast journalists are for. They shouldn't simper and avoid embarrassing subjects. They ask the tough questions which need to be asked, and put politicians of all parties on the spot. They bring politicians right into our living rooms, and obtain answers on our behalf. Politicians are our elected representatives – they should not be put on pedestals and allowed to say and do what they want, and of course should not be allowed to dictate the terms of interviews.
As a former journalist and a media celebrity, Johnson will surely have suspected that, on the day before a documentary about him was due to be broadcast, there may be questions raised on some of the subjects covered. Johnson is now a politician, running one of the largest cities in the world, and is often touted as a possible future PM. There is therefore legitimate public interest in the murkier details of his public past. Details which could point to a lack of integrity, honesty, even competency; qualities we would like to be able to expect from our politicians.