Media training: Insult sees interview derail

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Insult sees interview derail

It may sound like a fairly obvious media training tip, but insulting a journalist in an interview will not end well.

Obvious it may be, but it is also a lesson that not everyone seems to have learned.

Just this week a radio interview descended into farce as a spokesperson made several attempts to offend the presenter.

It happened when Steve Hedley,  assistant general secretary of the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) was being interviewed on Talk Radio about rail strikes affecting many services at the end of the week when things began to go off track.

In what should have been an opportunity to explain to passengers why they face yet more misery caused by staff walkouts, he accused presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer of talking ‘nonsense on the radio’ and followed this up by asking if he could interrupt her ‘ignorant diatribe’.

And worse was to come as he accused her of ‘wholeheartedly supporting’ the government because she has a double barrel surname and a ‘right wing accent’.

When his subsequent plea to get the interview back on to the subject of the strike was ignored, Mr Hedley accused Ms Hartley-Brewer of having a fragile ego:


Hedley: Do you not want to talk about the strike?

Hartley Brewer: I was trying to, but you decided to insult me instead.

Hedley:  Oh well, you’re very easily insulted and you must have a very fragile ego.


Who you side with probably depends on your politics and whether you have to use trains for your commute, but it was undoubtedly great radio.

But ask yourself this - What do you remember about the interview other than the insults?



A quick look at Ms Hartley-Brewer’s Twitter account shows that she is a divisive figure with strong opinions.  But the issue with Mr Hedley trying to raise these during the interview was that the entire focus was on the fiery exchange rather than the reasons behind the strike and the messages he presumably wanted to get across.

Spokespeople will at times find that journalists ask questions which they do not want to answer or that they regard as stupid, and even views that they may not agree with.  

But it is absolutely crucial that they remain calm and do not let their frustrations show.

Not only does the loss of composure have the potential to take the focus of the interview away from the subject the spokesperson wants to discuss. But it can also suggest to the journalist that you are uncomfortable with that line of questioning and cause them to probe further.



If you’ve read this media training blog before, you will be aware that Mr Hedley has a pretty extensive record when it comes to disastrous media interviews.

His back catalogue includes starting an interview with LBC by telling a crude joke about Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (he also went on to say that he wanted all Conservatives to be ‘taken out and shot) and, on another occasion, repeatedly asking presenter Nick Ferrari, whether he had ‘stopped beating his wife’ – a notorious ‘damned if you do / damned if you don’t question’ aimed at landing the recipient in trouble.

The problem with all of these interviews is that Mr Hedley’s approach means they are memorable only for his outbursts

What were the messages he and his union intended to get across in these interviews?  What had they hoped to tell the public?

And this begs the question why anyone at the RMT still thinks he is a good person to put forward for media interviews.

You would imagine that after this third strike his time as a media spokesperson may have finally hit the buffers.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.


Click here to find out more about our journalist-led media training courses.



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