An international broadcast journalist known for his focus on salacious stories of the day and a deceptively genteel demeanor, Martin Bashir rose to prominence by landing two of the most coveted, exclusive interviews at the turn of the millennium. Bashir first gained international attention with his momentous tell-all interview with Princess Diana for the British news program "Panorama" (BBC, 1953- ) in 1995. After delving into dozens more scandalous stories in the U.K., he garnered even more notice - as well as considerable criticism - for his two-hour documentary "Living with Michael Jackson" (ABC, 2003), characterized by more than one pundit as a shamelessly self-serving ambush attack on an all-too-trusting celebrity. So damaging was the interview to the King of Pop's already tarnished image, that the Jackson camp made the unprecedented move of firing back with a documentary of their own, "The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See" (Fox, 2003). By then one of the more recognizable names in television news, Bashir joined "Nightline" (ABC, 1980- ) in 2005, then jumped to a competing network for duties on "Dateline" (NBC, 1992- ), in addition to a show of his own, "Martin Bashir" (MSNBC, 2011- ), in 2010. Equal parts investigative reporter, agent provocateur and self-promoter, Bashir firmly established himself alongside the likes of Geraldo Rivera on the landscape of American broadcast journalism.
Of Pakistani descent, Bashir was born on Jan. 19, 1963 in London. He earned his education at King Alfred's College of Higher Education in Winchester, where he studied English from 1981-84. Upon graduation, he began to make his mark in the British journalism industry and later joined the BBC and became a segment producer for "Panorama" (1953- ). Bashir first came to international prominence in 1995 when he interviewed Diana, the Princess of Wales, for "Panorama." The late princess spoke candidly about her battle with bulimia, her adulterous affair with James Hewitt, and the breakdown of her marriage to the Prince of Wales. It was during this documentary that she uttered the now famous line " there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," referring to the prince's relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. More than 22 million viewers in the U.K. alone watched the program, and worldwide interest in the royals ensured it was given a much wider audience. This frank interview fueled the flames that led to the Royals divorce in 1996.
Another of Bashir's big "Panorama" interviews was with Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted in the manslaughter of a baby she was looking after while in the U.S. Bashir, ever the agitator, conducted the interview shortly after Woodward was released from an American prison following a sentence reduction from murder to manslaughter. Following the interview, in which she claimed she had been made to pay for the death of Matthew Eappen, she was criticized for cashing in on her infamy. Bashir continued to make a name for himself as his steady stream of high-profile interviews continued. In 1999, he joined ITV in what was reportedly a big money deal to work on its "Tonight with Trevor McDonald" program. During his time at ITV, Bashir worked on a number of highly touted interviews, including the five men suspected of killing London teenager Stephen Lawrence; the disgraced Tory peer Lord Archer; the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who was jailed for killing a burglar; and former soccer star George Best.
Much to the consternation of his critics, Bashir continued to show a knack for zeroing in on scandals. He produced a documentary called "Millionaire: A Major Fraud" (2003), a film about the couple found guilty of cheating their way to the top prize in the British version of the game. He also continued his string of high-profile investigations, including one into the financial activities of English soccer coach Terry Venable. Following the broadcast, Venable admitted to 17 specimen charges and was banned from being a company (team) director. Bashir also raised serious questions about the British government's sale of the English coal regions to businessman Richard Budge, focusing on Budge's financial probity. Bashir's work on allegations of so-called satanic abuse in Scotland provoked a government inquiry, as did his documentary about safety concerns at the U.K.'s Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston.
For the first, but not last time, Bashir's journalistic ethics were called into question during his investigation into a child prodigy. Farooq Yusof, the father of a 15-year-old girl who had run away, complained that Bashir had effectively forced him into giving an interview. Yusof alleged Bashir offered him information on the whereabouts of his daughter in exchange for an interview, which earned the reporter a rebuke from the U.K.'s Broadcasting Standards Commission. Despite whispers of questionable ethics, Bashir began racking up numerous honors, including a BAFTA Award, as well as being named the Royal Television Society's Journalist of the Year in 1996.
In 2003, Bashir was granted exclusive access to the self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, for eight wacky months. This time well spent culminated into the landmark documentary, "Living with Michael Jackson," in which audiences were treated to the sight of Jackson dropping $6 million in a tacky Las Vegas store; riding his own amusement park rides; and dragging his two veiled children to the zoo. Twenty-seven million morbidly curious American viewers tuned into the ABC-aired documentary. What they witnessed was truly a PR nightmare for Jackson's camp. Bashir not only quizzed the notoriously pale singer about his obvious plastic surgery and fading skin (to which Jackson only admitted to undergoing "two" nose operations), he brought up the decade-old allegations concerning Jackson's questionable relationships with children. The singer firmly denied any charges, all the while sitting and holding hands with a young preteen boy who backed up his innocence.
The documentary sparked outrage around the world and quietly prompted a police investigation of Jackson, which later resulted in a criminal trial in which the same hand-holding teen and his family accused Jackson of molestation. In fact, Bashir would later be subpoenaed to testify in the trial as a material witness. In the wake of the furor, a surprised Jackson hit back at Bashir with his own documentary, "The Michael Jackson Interview: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See," taken by the singer's own personal cameraman who had shot Jackson being interviewed by Bashir. Jackson accused the journalist of betraying his confidence and falsely editing the interviews. The documentaries divided the viewing public, though more so overseas where Jackson's popularity still soared.
Due in no small part to his Jackson notoriety, in September 2004, Bashir joined ABC for a reported sum of $1 million as a correspondent for the long-running primetime news magazine "20/20." Bashir was brought on to cover international news-breaking stories, including the investigation of BALCO founder Victor Conte. Due to his on-air successes, a year later Bashir was named co-anchor of the ABC News "Nightline" (1980- ), replacing the stalwart Ted Koppel, who had stepped down earlier that year. Bashir assumed anchor duties at the end of November. Bashir left his position at ABC in the summer of 2010 to take on a new post as a correspondent on the long-running television news magazine "Dateline" (NBC, 1992- ). Also part of his new employment deal was an hour-long topical discussion program, eponymously titled "Martin Bashir" (MSNBC, 2011-13), which aired weekday afternoons. In November 2013, during a segment that addressed recent commenta about slavery from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Bashir suggested that Palin should undergo a specific scatalogical punishment that Bashir had earlier quoted from a slaveholder's diary. In the ensuing uproar, Bashir apologized for his statement, and resigned from MSNBC on December 4, 2013.