Now they say 'never complain, never explain'. I'm going to ignore those wise words today, despite many people advising me not to.
Apparently, with one interview, I've become the worst interviewer in the world. Well, according to Twitter. Read on...
When you’re a political interviewer you know you’ll never get it right. For some people a particular interview will be too soft, for others they will see hard questioning as being gratuitously rude. You asked the wrong questions. You failed to challenge. You didn’t shout. Why did you even have this disgraceful politician on in the first place? You weren’t hard on them because you’re a Tory shill.
And so it was after my interview with Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary on Thursday. It was the day of the publication of the Broadcasting White Paper and Nadine had agreed to do a 20 minute pre-recorded interview with me in our Westminster studio.
I’ve known Nadine since she was first elected in 2005 and count her as a personal friend. So there’s problem number one. Should you ever interview people who are friends? When I first came to LBC I found this quite difficult. But I soon banished any reservations I had about doing these interviews. Indeed, both David Davis and Brandon Lewis constantly complain that the interview I do with them are the most difficult they do, because they think I overcompensate and are therefore harder on them than I am with others.
With Nadine, I have seen interviews she has done with other people and I know what happens if you go in hard. She puts the shutters up and gives monosyllabic answers. I think those interviews fail the listener/viewer. The interviewer is often looking to make a name for themselves by being overly confrontational from the start, and they see her as an easy victim. They try to catch her out. That's not my style whether I know the politician or not. I have never gone into an interview with the intention of pulling someone apart.
David Frost always believed that a softly, softly approach invariably proved a better strategy and that a conversation was likely to reap rewards rather than confrontation. I believe that too. Fine, if I think I am being hoodwinked or lied to, I can mix it with the best of them, as I have evidenced on a number of occasions, but my general approach is that if you let a politician speak and don’t interrupt every few seconds, they’re far more likely to say something interesting, than if it’s a constant bombardment from the interviewer right from the start.
This is especially so when a politician has new policies to announce and explain, and even more especially the case when the news hook is the publication of a white paper.
So in the interview with Nadine, I deliberately decided I was going to go for a conversational approach. In my view it worked, in the sense that I got several news lines out of her, and she said things she hadn’t said or didn't say to other media outlets.
However, over the last forty eight hours, social media has been outraged by the interview, or more accurately one section of the interview, in which I was asking her about the future of independent production companies and British made programmes if Channel 4 was privatized. Here’s the transcript…
ID: There are fears that the independent production companies will lose out here… There is a fear it will lead to fewer British made programmes.
ND: It will lead to more British made programmes.
ND: In the White Paper we say how we want more British content. We will protect British content. I’ll give you an example from Channel 4. The Derry Girls. No other company or American company would make Peaky Blinders or The Derry Girls… I’d like to see Bread come back…
ID: That was BBC to be fair…
ND: Was it… I’d like to see programmes rooted in the regions. In the White Paper we say public sector broadcasters, of which Channel 4 is one would have to spend a certain proportion of their income in the regions. Can I say who’s done that well since they were privatized a small number of years ago. Three years ago maybe five years ago, is Channel 5. If you look at the amount of investment puts into the regions, and how well Channel 5 has done since it has been privatized, that’s the model. I call Channel 5 the ‘Levelling Up broadcaster’. That is the model for how broadcasting can work.
ID: But just to be clear, you will put clauses in the Privatisation Bill that will guarantee a certain level of British made programmes and work for independent production companies…
ND: And also, money on top of that funding (sic) is spent out in the regions and not just in London.
Let me explain my thought process during that exchange. When she said that Channel 5 had been privatized I thought to myself: “I don’t think that’s right. Surely she means when they were sold by Richard Desmond to Viacom – that was about five years ago, wasn’t it?” [It was actually in 2014]. But my dominant thought there was that she was suggesting there would be guarantees on independent production and British content. So I was waiting for her to finish her point so I could go back to her to confirm that, on the record which she then did. So the thought about privatization was trumped by the desire to pin her down on those points.
I do vaguely remember thinking that people would understand that she would have meant “sold” as opposed to privatized, but on that I was clearly wrong. Unlike any other politician, everyone constantly looks at every interview Nadine does to damn her over an innocent misspeak. And the way some people on Twitter have gone overboard on this displays a nasty side and in many cases a misogynistic one. And of course, they accuse me of being a Tory Shill.
Those who attack me for not calling out what they think is deliberate mininformation then proceed to give deliberate misinformation themselves by describing me as a Tory Party member (I haven’t been for 12 years) and ignoring the fact that I have publicly stated I won’t be voting Tory in this week’s elections. Hey ho.
However, to be clear, I regret not pulling her up on the Channel 5 privatization point. I should have. But I hope you can see from what I have said above that it was for no other reason than I was waiting for the opportunity to pin her down on something far more important.
I didn’t respond to any of the thousands of tweets on this because there is no way I could explain it in 280 characters. But even by writing this, I stand the risk of reigniting everything with people questioning why I have waited 36 hours to do so, or worse. Just as well my shoulders are broad.
You can watch the full interview HERE.