“God, she’s good,” murmured the nation, as they watched a woman tear apart a padophile’s companion (apologies, I beg your pardon: they’re not good friends, but they were friends, but not really, but close enough to warrant a flight to New York to end a not-quite-an-actual-friendship). Yes, Emily Maitlis’ infamous interview with Prince Andrew will be immortalised in television’s hall of shame, and it was her cross-examination that allowed us all to pick further holes in the harrowing Jeffrey Epstein case. But that’s just one jewel in the brand new crown of a 49-year-old from a Sheffield comprehensive.
For 2019 has been Maitlis’ year. And by that very token, ours too. In an era of ‘alternative facts’, when the leader of the free world tell more lies than a potential father on Maury, many journalists have failed to really get to the bottom of the truth. Yet Maitlis has proven otherwise. More importantly, the presenter has demonstrated on numerous occasions why she’s fit for the job of Newsnight’s co-presenter.
We needed Paxman’s tenacity, just without the internal bias (if you think that’s unfair, it was Boris Johnson himself that suggested the glorified pub quiz curmudgeon was the “last” of the BBC conservatives). After the depressing premiere of the BBC gender pay gap debacle, we needed a bit of diversity, too - more so when you consider that every previous Newsnight presenter has been lucky enough to attend private school. Most of all, though, we needed someone who was actually skilled at their job. Maitlis is the best candidate. Better yet, it’s an exemplary girl-done-good tale that could well be diluted with a Julia Roberts flick. That’s because this sort of ascent rarely happens. And unlike the usual tropes of succeeding against iffy odds, Maitlis isn’t driving a chevrolet off into the sunset. Instead, she’s steered her way to the upper echelons of a media class that’s increasingly plucked from privilege.
In just a few months, the strings to Maitlis’ bow have multiplied. We’ve seen the admonishment of a Tory leadership that got a little bit too Kim Jong-Un with a badly-disguised ‘fact checker’ Twitter account. Maitlis called it “dystopian”. Even moderate Conservatives were loath to agree. And lest we forget the interjection that saw a royal correct himself: sexual assault was, and is, a step beyond “unbecoming” behaviour.
All of this should be par for the course for proper prestige journalism. But that just isn’t the case anymore. When Jo Swinson approves of atomically incinerating millions, broadcasters deem it a “brilliant” response. Moderators press party leaders with questions easier than the first round of Bop It, and it was just as jarring to hear. Where they go easy, though, Maitlis toughens up - the British inquisition to launch a thousand memes dutifully anchored by applause emojis. And, like the logician that exists in every social circle, the one who always, truly, knew he was a wrong’un, Maitlis presents the facts.
If you thought such moments was impressive (which they are), Maitlis’ adroit questioning can be witnessed in full 720p glory. Thoughtful, and firm, she verbally rugby tackles a Tory Minister during the government contractual fuck-up that was the Carillion scandal. Taxpayers were out of pocket by £148m. Thousands upon thousands were without a job. And, most exquisitely, one Conservative MP was left with Vietnam flashbacks forever immortalised on YouTube. Yes. She is that good.
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