An interview is a great thing for a business or politician as long as the basic rules are understood. My media training is designed to help people understand them and make the most of the opportunity.
I don’t train politicians. I assume they’ll know loads about the process. This is why the interview from Andrea Leadsom, Conservative Party leadership (and therefore prime ministerial) candidate over the weekend was such a shock.
Her perspective is quoted in the Daily Telegraph today – she claims the Times interview, in which she apparently said she would be a better prime minister than her rival Theresa May, because she is a mother (May had recently given an interview in which she confirmed that she and her husband had been unable to produce a child), contained the opposite of her views.
The BBC has her quote from today’s paper here. She says she was pressed for her views. I highlight the BBC’s account rather than that of the Telegraph itself because a) it doesn’t disappear behind a paywall after you’ve looked at a few stories, and b) it contains the audio of the original interview. I don’t think she’s being pressed at all.
You can’t control your quotes from an interview
The most telling point came on Saturday when the Times interview appeared in the paper. She Tweeted that it was “Truly appalling and the opposite of what I said”, which the audio clip demonstrates is measurably untrue. Her ideas on media, though, are curious to say the least.
Here’a a cutting from the Daily Mail. Some way down it, she makes the statement: “In front of The Times correspondent and photographer, I made clear repeatedly that nothing I said should be used in any way to suggest that Theresa May not having children had any bearing whatever on the leadership election.”
Let’s get this straight. She started by angrily denying what she’d said and demanding that the Times produce a transcript (her Tweets demanding this appear to have been deleted but the Mail piece quotes them and I can confirm I saw them on Saturday). The Times not only did so but produced audio. She then defends her position by stating that she had instructed the journalist on how to use her quotes.
This is staggering from someone who considers themselves experienced enough to become prime minister. Interviewees at all levels need to understand that the journalist will consider themselves responsible to the editor and above all to the readers; if someone says something that is informative about their character and judgment, it gets reported. There is no “don’t use this quote in that way” – you can’t un-say things. If you don’t want it reported, don’t say it.
Leadsom emerges damaged, by this and by today’s revelation that she apologised to May by text rather than in person or at least with a call. She says in a statement today that she has been naive and she is right. It’s also That innocence in a person who might have to represent the UK in its negotiations with the EU as to some sort of deal on trade and movement might be unhelpful; in an negotiation with, say, Vladimir Putin, it could be positively dangerous.
Very few of us want to be prime minister. The lesson, though, is worth noting for anyone who’s going to be interviewed. Once you’ve said something, it’s said. The journalist doesn’t work for you and as long as the quote is accurate and in context we can use it as our judgment suggests is best. If you don’t want to see it in print, don’t say it.
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Photo: flickr: Policy Exchange