Like Morgan, she’s appalled by American gun violence. At one stage, she always had a black dress for mourning vigils packed in her ‘grab bag’ for overseas assignments. ‘I’d turn up and the question I’d always ask was, “Is the vigil at 6pm or 7pm?” I remember thinking, “That’s appalling, I know the ritual of the school massacre so well that’s the only question left.” I got to a point where I said I didn’t want to do any more school shootings. I’ve done “America’s biggest school shooting” three times now and each time, they reference the last shooting I was at. Why am I amplifying this?’
That oxygen of publicity, and why ‘long, complex conversations are boiled down to a sound bite’, are part of the continuing critique of TV current affairs. Whom to have on the show – and Newsnight has, in its time, featured the far-right English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson – is the thing ‘we sit down and wrangle over every single day’.
All of which sounds intense. And exciting. Maitlis partly deflects the accusation that Newsnight didn’t see Trump (or Brexit) coming by saying, ‘The thing we got right, we listened to the noise. Every time [the editor] said, “Do you want to cover a Trump rally?” it was like, bang! You felt waves of enthusiasm [from the crowds]. Then it was, “Do a Hillary Clinton rally”, and our faces were…’ She puts on a mournful look. ‘The noise was coming from Trump and from Bernie Sanders – we went to a tattoo parlour where they were giving away Bernie Sanders tattoos!’ As for the US elections, Maitlis is judicious: Newsnight doesn’t call the possible outcome of elections, she says, but the buzz is ‘why I love the American scene’.
The thrill is palpable, and it’s a thrill she’s hoping to translate to a different sphere – TV drama. Airhead has been bought and, she hopes, a scriptwriter signed. It is, she says, to be ‘total fiction’, but it’s also to be everything that goes on behind the scenes, all the weird things that happen – like Prince Andrew, before his catastrophic interview began, telling the sound engineer where better to put Maitlis’s mic, ‘looking utterly relaxed, pointing and directing. He’s not shy of being in command.’ It’ll all be grist to the mill, with one caveat: she must not be able to recognise herself in the heroine. ‘You can turn me into a narcoleptic alcoholic,’ she says. ‘That’s fine. Just don’t call her Emily.’ They wouldn’t dare.
This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue.