Paxman has always been at his best when interviewing members of the public. He was polite and gentle, drawing them out and encouraging them to tell their stories.
He is at his worst when interviewing politicians. As I wrote in Liberal Democrat News in 2010:
Wealthy, arrogant, members of powerful dynasties... It is not the politicians we should worry about these days so much as the interviewers.
Take the biggest cheese of them all: Jeremy Paxman. Politicians are not brought before him to have their views examined: they are there to suffer a form of ritual contempt. Forget any ideas of a sustained line of questioning designed to probe and elucidate his interviewees’ views. What he offers is sneering, snarling and attempts to catch his victims off guard.
Paxo acts as a channel for our hatred of the political class. It is all great fun, but contempt for democratically elected politicians is not the mark of a mature democracy. It is the stock in trade of fascists or, to be less melodramatic, of fruitcakes like UKIP in Britain or the Tea Party in America.I went on to observe that Paxman was most famous for asking Michael Howard the same question 14 times - "And he still didn’t get an answer."
And that has always been his greatest weakness. Paxman is not a forensic interviewer like Andrew Neil. He does not develop a line of questioning that exposes the weaknesses or contradictions in a politicians case. He just throws out random barbs.
Most of all he can sneer. Jeremy Paxman could sneer for Britain.
But maybe we get the interviewers we deserve. Paxman's shtick is the embodiment of the outlook of a public that believes all politicians are corrupt and self-serving but reacts with outrage when government fails to solve their problems.