Andrew Neil has defended his interviewing style following criticism from supporters of the conservative US pundit Ben Shapiro, who said the veteran broadcaster “destroyed” him in a spiky exchange that went viral.
The BBC presenter said on social media it was legitimate to ask Shapiro, who was calling for more civilised political discourse, whether he believed he had fuelled anger in US politics.
The interview, which aired on Friday, became acrimonious as Neil robustly interrogated Shapiro about previous remarks such as “Israelis like to build, Arabs like to bomb crap”. Shapiro accused Neil of being a “lefty” and ended the interview prematurely.
Shapiro later apologised for misinterpreting Neil’s “antagonism as political leftism” and conceded that he had been “destroyed” in the debate, adding he had not properly prepared for the interview.
Josh Hammer, the editor-at-large of the Daily Wire channel, which broadcasts The Ben Shapiro Show, described the interview as a “hostile dredging up of nine-year-old (repudiated!) tweets” and questioned why Neil had not focused on Shapiro’s new book.
Neil responded on Twitter: “He did not repudiate statements I put to him. It was legitimate to ask, since he’s calling for more civilised discourse, if he wasn’t a cause of the coarsening of said discourse. My interviews not designed to destroy anyone.”
Shapiro became agitated after Neil highlighted his support for new hardline abortion laws in Georgia, failing to properly respond to questions before accusing Neil of harbouring leftwing sympathies.
Neil, the chair of the group that owns the rightwing magazine the Spectator, responded: “If you only knew how ridiculous that statement is you wouldn’t have said it, so let’s move on.”
On Saturday evening, he said on Twitter: “Mr Shapiro is not the first person to think they can discern my own views from the questions I ask. It’s a mistake but one folks make all the time, especially on Twitter.”
He added: “I tend to take the opposite position from those I interview. It’s a useful way to test their positions. It tells you nothing of my own views. What do American interviewers do?”
Neil then declared he had not expressed a position on any matter of public debate for more than a decade, “as befits a BBC presenter”.