The worst interviews of 2019

We seem to say it every year, but the past 12 months has produced plenty of terrible media interviews.

In 2019, this media training blog has included examples of spokespeople storming out of interviews, criticising questions, saying things which make a company crisis worse and even cameras being head-butted.

But which interviews made the cut and were included in our rundown of the worst interviews of the year?

Here are the five interviews which stuck in our minds for all the wrong reasons.


The Prince and the PR disaster

The interview that should not have happened.

Prince Andrew was shown to be hopelessly out of his depth when he appeared on Newsnight in an attempt to clear his name over abuse allegations.

You can understand why he wanted to do the interview and why he seemingly went against the advice of his PR advisors in doing so.

But was a 45-minute interview ever really going to end the speculation, successfully counter allegations and change the narrative around the story?

Well, not with the sort of performance the Duke of York produced, which lacked any empathy for the women at the centre of the story, or offered any real condemnation of his long-term friend and billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Even at the end of the interview when Ms Maitlis teed him up to show some remorse with the open “is there anything you feel has been left unsaid that you would like to say now” question, he still didn’t show any contrition or any awareness of a situation where young women were being abused and trafficked.

He said: “No, I don’t think so. You’ve probably dragged out most of what is required and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to discuss this with you.”

You got the impression that the only person the prince really felt sorry for was himself and that he saw himself as the victim.

It was perhaps not surprising then that Fleet Street's devastating reaction to the interview was led by The Mail on Sunday’s ‘Not one single word of remorse’ splash.

The interview breathed fresh impetus into a story that was grumbling along on the background of the media agenda and raised more questions about the Prince’s conduct than it answered.

The fallout from the interview saw the Prince withdraw from royal duties for the “foreseeable future”.

Media training lesson: There are some rare instances where it is best to turn down an interview request.

You can read the full blog here.


Fiery spokesperson becomes a comedy show sketch

It is not often that an interview is so bad that it is re-enacted in a comedy sketch show.

But that was what happened to Josep Borrell after his lack of composure during a television interview led to wider humiliation.

Spain’s Foreign Minister turned a far-ranging interview on DS’s Conflict Zone programme into what social media users tend to describe as a ‘car crash’.

The interview with journalist Tim Sebastian, which focused on the fairness of trials of Catalan pro-independence politicians, was hard-hitting from the start.

And it only took a few minutes for Mr Borrell to show his discomfort and displeasure at the line of questioning.

He said: “If you continue like this I will stop this interview. You are not interrogating me, you are interviewing me. You are not the police. I am not the subject of any kind of enquiry from you. So put the right questions and let me talk. Let’s start again.”

A short time later, Mr Borrell told the reporter his interview was ‘biased’ and accused him of ‘continuously lying’ before removing his microphone and bringing the interview to a premature end.

But the story does not end there as, following a consultation with his aides, Mr Borrell returned.

And the unease about the questions remained. At one point he said to the journalist: “I’m really surprised how badly informed you are. You don’t know anything about what you are talking about. How ignorant you are. Incredible.”

And it finished with this memorable exchange:

Sebastian: “Minister, good to have you on Conflict Zone.”

Borrell: “Thank you to you. But next time, I would appreciate it if you could put the questions in a less biased way.”

Sebastian: “I’m not here just to give you the questions you want, Minister.” 

Media training lesson: We stress to delegates on our media training courses the importance of remaining calm and composed when they find themselves under pressure.

Not only are they more likely to retain the sympathy of the audience, but showing frustration, annoyance, aggression and insulting the journalist ensures an interview will be memorable for the wrong reasons.

You can read the full blog here.


Tennis star serves up example of how not to answer tough questions

All media spokespeople will face questions they don’t want to answer at some point.

Whether they are tough, challenging questions, or focused on a subject they would rather not discuss, it is inevitable they will be asked.

What’s key is how these questions are answered.

One approach we would certainly not recommend on our media training courses is that which saw a spokesperson roll her eyes, dismiss questions as ‘silly’ and refuse to acknowledge others – let alone answer them.

That was the interview strategy served up by Maria Sharapova after her defeat in the Australian Open.

In a frosty post-match press conference, she did little to hide her unease at questions on her use of meldonium – a substance she served a 15-month ban for taking - and the hostile reaction she had received from the crowd.

The tennis star first displayed her displeasure at a question about the crowd’s reaction to her seven-minute toilet break. Here is the awkward exchange with the journalist:

Journalist: “What did you make of the crowds’ reaction to you today? They booed you when you came back on court after that toilet break at the end of the second set and cheered that time violation. Did you think they were a bit unfair to you and did it affect you at all?

Sharapova: “What do you want me to say to that question?”

Reporter: “I don’t know. Just the truth I guess.”

Sharapova: “I think that is a silly question to ask.”

Worse was to follow when she was asked about meldonium. As the question was put to her Miss Sharapova looked visibly uncomfortable, rubbing her forehead and rolling her eyes. Here is what was said:

Journalist: “You took meldonium legally for 10 years to deal with your health problems. Now that it’s banned and you can no longer take it, is it a struggle physically to deal with the demand of a Grand Slam fortnight?”

Sharapova: “Is there another question.”

Media training lesson: On our media training courses we tell delegates not to criticise a question they don’t like. It simply serves to show frustration and in many cases that will cause the journalist to pursue that particular line of questioning.

You can read the full blog here.


Spokesperson stumbles over personal question

Personal questions have a habit of tripping up spokespeople in media interviews.

Often, we see interviews where a spokesperson clearly knows the message they want to get across and has anticipated and rehearsed the difficult questions.

And then they are asked something about their personal experience and attitudes and the wheels begin to come off.

One example of this which caught our attention, came when Liz Truss, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was interviewed by Eddie Mair on LBC.

She faced a personal question almost immediately when Mr Mair asked her “How have you personally been affected by austerity?”

And you could almost hear the panic and confusion in her voice as she tried to come up with a response.

Truss: Well I think the whole country has…

Mair (interrupting): I’m asking about you.

Truss: Well (sniggering), It’s not about me, it’s about the whole country.

Mair: My question is about you. How have you been affected?

Truss: What I would say is that we have… (sniggering)

Mair: I don’t know why it is funny. A lot of people have had a terrible time with austerity.

Truss: Eddie, I’m not laughing, I’m just questioning your question because…

Mair: Well, you leave the questions up to me. What’s the answer to mine?

Truss: My answer is that all of us have been affected by the difficult decision that had to be made, but what we have done is limited those difficult decisions and made sure we target money on those on the lowest incomes…  

Mair: It would be ok wouldn’t it to say that you haven’t been affected?

Truss: I just don’t think it is a good question, I don’t know what it means.

Mair: Well, I won’t comment on your answer.

As you can see, it was an excruciating exchange (you can hear and watch it here)

Media training lesson: While the personal question has a reputation for challenging spokespeople, it usually takes a fairly obvious angle. For example, if you’re representing the NHS you should be prepared to answer a question about the last time you visited a hospital or went along to see your GP. Perhaps you’re from a housing association. In that case, you’d better be set for a question about whether you’d live in a particular development. Preparation, as we say so often on our media training courses, is key.

You can read the full blog here.


Interview disaster goes viral

It was an interview that saw both the journalist and the spokesperson trend on Twitter.

And when you consider that it included accusations of bias together with a few personal insults and ended in a tantrum it is perhaps easy to understand why so many of us were talking about it.

Andrew Neil’s pre-recorded interview with conservative US political pundit Ben Shapiro may have ordinarily passed many of us by.

But as it veered into media interview disaster territory it captured the interest of a much wider audience and went viral.

The wide-ranging pre-recorded interview began to go wrong when Mr Neil asked about new hard-line anti-abortion laws in Georgia, suggesting it was 'taking us back to the dark ages'.

Mr Shaprio responded by saying “Are you an objective journalist or are you an opinion journalist?”

The presenter replied: “My job is to question those who have strong views and put an alternative to them.”

From there the interview continued in a similarly tense fashion, with Mr Shaprio deriding it as a ‘waste of time’.

When he was quizzed about some of his own past comments, he brought the interview to a premature end.

He said: “I’m not inclined to continue with a person as badly motivated as you as an interviewer, so I think we are done here. I appreciate your time.”

Mr Neil rounded-up the acrimonious interview by saying: “Thank you for your time and for showing that anger is not part of American political discourse.”

Media training lesson: There is a widely held view that pre-recorded interviews are the safest option for spokespeople. And to an extent, they do offer a little more protection and the opportunity to correct mistakes which can be particularly reassuring for new or nervous spokespeople. But it is also worth considering how often those mistakes are still broadcast. There are many examples of mistakes in pre-recorded interviews being aired because they result in good footage.

You can read the full blog here.



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