Jeremy Paxman has dismissed suggestions that Newsnight is dumbing down as "tripe".
He asked the Radio Times: "Do you honestly think I'm going to react to tripe like that?"
Paxman also said modern society had become "cosseted" and people are expected to do nothing but "gratify themselves".
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The broadcaster, 63, said that while he was "not arguing in favour of national service", he would "have done better for having time in uniform".
"I love this country and very often we don't know how lucky we are", he said, but added it was difficult to imagine a society where people lived not just for personal pleasure.
Paxman, who wrote Great Britain's Great War and is presenting an accompanying BBC1 series, said: "Can you imagine living in a trench in this weather? Crikey. Soldiers rouged their cheeks so they didn't look white with terror.
"It's such an imaginative leap from our cosseted, indulged lives to something other than the achievement of personal pleasure. That's really why people find it so hard to come to terms with the war."
Paxman said that he had become "annoyed" by the "assumptions" made about the First World War, that it was a "pointless sacrifice".
He added: "We don't need the right-on prejudices of a generation far removed from what happened. ... It ill behoves those of us accustomed to going abroad for pleasure and living our lives for self-fulfilment to imagine how and why these people responded."
He said of his own life: "I'd have done better for having time in uniform. The more we see of other members of our society, we realise we're all human beings with the same hopes and fears.
"I'm not arguing in favour of national service, but I feel in awe of my parents' generation who had to do that, and a bit guilty having such a privileged life. We've had it pretty easy and never been tested.
"Obviously I'm not wishing war on anyone, but it might have been better for all of us if we'd been obliged to do something rather than choosing for ourselves.
"It's difficult to comprehend today a society where people were expected to do things other than gratify themselves."