How did Miliband repeat himself like this?

Have a look at the video above. It’s only a couple of minutes long. It’s Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, repeating himself and making the same point over and over again.

I show this to media training candidates and ask them what’s going on. Sometimes they respond: Miliband is an idiot.

So let’s leave party politics at the door for a moment. Let’s just assume the likelihood is that after May we will have one of two possible people as Prime Minister, and one of them is in the clip above. Even if he loses, becoming the second-likeliest Prime Minister after May isn’t something you achieve by being thick.

So what really happened? I wasn’t there but I can guess.

Find out about the interview

One excellent piece of advice I’ve heard a number of times is that people should find out about how a broadcast interview they give will be used. Ask the journalist: will you be using just my best quote or will you be putting everything out there, the full three minutes?

If it’s “just the best” then the standard advice is, no matter what the question, get your key messages out there.

This, I suspect, is what Miliband and his advisors were told before the above interview took place. So he’s dutifully brought every answer around to his central point; the strikes are wrong when talks are ongoing but the Government has behaved irresponsibly (disagree if you wish, but he’s expressing his view well).

The problem – and the refinement I’d add – is that someone, somewhere, will have a copy of all the repetitious responses and has the power to make you look (technical term coming up) a muppet. This is what someone’s done to Miliband above; according to some of the labels on YouTube it appeared in this form on Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe, a comedy/satire programme. They’ve just shown the unedited version with all of the identikit answers, and it looks absurd.

So what can you do to avoid this? In the context of a comedy programme Miliband still looks a fool; decontextualised he looks even more so. I’ve seen this circulated on social media without any reference to the comedy programme by people who genuinely get the impression that Miliband doesn’t realise he’s repeating himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

My suggestion to my media training candidates is that they answer the question. Prepare more than one message you need to get into an interview and push different ones. Respond to the questions rather than use them as cues for your spiel. They’ll naturally be different. You can still make your point.

You should end up with your message getting out there just as you’d hoped, but if someone gets hold of the unedited version then hopefully you won’t look quite as absurd as Mr. Miliband does in the clip.

It’s not his fault. He’s been manipulated for comic effect. However, by varying your responses, you can ensure the same thing doesn’t happen to you.

Details of Guy Clapperton’s media training course can be found by clicking here.

3 thoughts on “How did Miliband repeat himself like this?”

  1. I’m not so sure I buy what you say there. I suggest this is way more sophisticated than you say, and I’m not entirely you can use it as a platform for your advice – not that I disagree with all your advice per se, although asking the presenter if you are going to use the quote is, IMHO/IME naive in the extreme.

    When people do TV interviews, more than any other media, they show themselves – I mean quite literally, you are on show and as long as the camera is pointing at you, you are in danger of showing a side that you may not want to show.

    They say don’t run with scissors – how about, if it’s only you in the studio don’t think you aren’t on camera (Tomasz Schafernaker). If you are sitting on set chatting to the interviewer at the end of the interview don’t think you aren’t on camera (Bill Cosby, PA footage). And any occasion someone has said something stupid not knowing their mic is on don’t assume you aren’t on camera (Ronald Regan).

    This changes the responsibility for how you are perceived on screen from the camera crew to you. What is so appalling about this video is, just like the Jeremy Clarkson nursery rhyme video, is that it breaks the ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ rule. And also highlights the number one PR rule, ‘There is no such thing as off the record; if you don’t want to see it in print don’t say it.’

    If as you suggest Miliband thought he was only going to give one quote, why didn’t he stop? Your advice doesn’t seem to connect with the fact that the interviewers are there to interview you and as such you need to control that – much much easier to say than do of course, but that is the mindset and that’s what Miliband forgot.

    That he went on and said it three times was his own fault and, this time, set him up for his stitch up.

    There are zillions of outtakes like that on metaphorical cutting room floors around the world. That it got out – along with the Clarkson thing – is truly awful because a crummy joke, or a face you pull, or a noise that is heard while you are on camera is out there recorded, and you rely on the good faith of the people who recorded it not to show it. Whoever ‘they’ are, they showed it, and bang you are stuffed. Normally it doesn’t happen, it’s not really our jobs to show people saying stupid things when filling in time on set.

    We know this collusion to get a good take happens (Prescott “…I messed that up, I’ll do it again.” Interviewer, “I’m afraid we are live, Mr Prescott…”) we see the debris of these screw ups all the time.

    So, we have learned if you are giving a sound bite you are giving just one idea; one thought ; one carefully crafted saying. So, you give it and exit, perused by a bear. If the interviewer asks another question you stop, “sorry wasn’t that enough, I thought you only wanted a sound bite…?”.

    That conversation stops everything and gives you a chance to take control.

    By the way, there was a clue in that par; *another* question, they were three questions, what was Miliband thinking? The same answer to three questions, crazy! I did a terrible interview – my first ISTR – for Breakfast when the guy came to the PC User office to ask me about Alan Sugar, I was totally not prepared for the fact that he was going to ask the same question over and over again, mostly cos my answer was so rubbish. But I only said the one thing and we agreed my pitiful effort was just about broadcastable and he left.

    But if he asks a different question the game has changed, if he says: “what do you say about the general opinion on CIX that PC User writes stories to make advertisers happy…!”


    And the “WTF!” conversation starts there. Again, everything stops, and battle lines are drawn and the serious thinking starts.

    What you don’t do is go on and say – on camera – “Look, those tossers can’t tell their arse from their elbows and shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised.” Great telly but you play into the interviewers hands and lose the engagement.

    That Miliband thing like the Gordon Brown’s ‘racist woman’ thing is non- broadcast professionals who have chosen to live in a broadcast world and forget that they can’t be normal while there. Essentially they don’t think twice (once?) about doing something that if it got out of the edit suite would be embarrassing.

    So, I challenge the idea of him looking a fool decontextualized, he did it himself, he answered without fully taking control of the situation – and ultimately gave someone who had contact with the pictures the opportunity show the world him not concentrating on what was going on.

    If you like, you are actually seeing a politician truly contextualised with their media counterpart, trying to get something on screen, but ceding control and looking a fool as a result.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Chris. I can only counter with my own experience on BBC London TV news three weeks ago, when they made it clear they were going to use *one* quote (which they did). They asked about five questions and used what they considered the best. I made sure each was an answer to the question and not the same – if by any chance someone were to look at the whole interaction it wouldn’t look odd as the Miliband example does.

    So my suggestion that people try to find out what the broadcaster wants to do *but* make sure the interview will stand up if they change their mind seems reasonable to me based on actual experience. It’s also based a lot on what my frequent co-trainer, Jeremy Nicholas (late of BBC London breakfast show and currently a lot of “and finally” bits for TV news, so he’s very much in the medium we’re discussing) recommends – but there’s a hell of a lot in what you say too and thanks once again for making the points.

  3. I’m not actually sure that’s a counter – it rather seems that we are agreeing. Although I would say, from my own experience from the last 20 or so years of making telly, that a shoot’s worth is only really known in the edit and at that point all bets are off.

    Which is why we agree that putting the best foot forward is best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *