Media training skills: The worst interviews of 2017

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The worst interviews of 2017

It certainly seems to come around pretty quickly these days.

No, not Christmas, but our look back at the media interviews from the past 12 months, which, to put it kindly, did not go quite to plan.

With yet another general election and the ongoing debate around Brexit, politicians have once again dominated the airwaves this year.

And we probably could have filled this entire blog with their high-profile interview debacles.

So we’ve tried, as hard as we can, to leave them out of this round-up.

Instead we have looked back over the year and narrowed it down to the five interviews that really stuck in our minds for all the wrong reasons.


The ‘King of Spin’ makes a rookie error

One of the worst interviews we saw this year came from a man widely regarded as being a reputation management expert.

Lord Timothy Bell, who is often referred to as Britain’s ‘King of Spin’, appeared on Newsnight in September after his former PR firm, Bell Pottinger, was expelled from a trade body for a controversial South African campaign.

And surprisingly for a man of his experience, he managed to break one of the most basic of media training rules – ensuring your mobile phone is turned off.



Not only did Lord Bell’s mobile make no less than three interruptions but he also tried at one point to show presenter Kirsty Wark something on the screen of his phone.

The regular interruptions triggered Ms Wark to say ‘you are a popular man tonight, obviously’.


Cricket legend gets stuck on a sticky wicket

Sir Ian Botham’s radio interview disaster was not caused by a failure to prepare for the negative question. His performance was instead undone by a complete refusal to believe there could be anything negative at all in what he was trying to promote.

The cricket legend turned broadcaster appeared on Radio 5 Live Breakfast to discuss his plans to give away meals made from pheasants and partridges shot on his estate to help feed the poor.



But he was stumped when presenter Rachel Burden began to ask challenging questions about shooting.

Sir Ian initially tried to avoid the questions, then tried repeatedly talking over the presenter and turning the questions back on her, before accusing her of ‘having an agenda’ and calling her ‘opinionated’.

When she tried to get the interview back to more friendlier terms with a question about a cricket match which was taking place at the time, Sir Ian growled ‘Er, no I am not here to talk about cricket’.

The result? A string of negative tweets and headlines which accused him of being arrogant and very little focus on his initiative. 


Spokesperson gives an arresting performance

Garda Representative Association spokesperson John O’Keeffe brought back memories of the infamous exchange between Jeremy Paxman and Michael Howard when he gave an interview with Irish broadcaster RTE.

Mr O’Keeffe faced the same question no less than 13 times and completely tied himself in knots as he spoke to a journalist after rank and file officers rejected findings in a report into alcohol testing checkpoints that claimed they falsified results.

Mr O’Keeffe was clearly determined to ensure no blame could be attributed to ordinary gardaí’ but desperately struggled to deal with the question on whether they falsified the results.

In fact, by sticking rigidly to a pre-approved and poorly constructed line, he manged to claim both that they did not falsify the results and that they did so under pressure from senior management, before denying he said they had falsified results – I hope you are still with me.



Exasperated reporter Paul Reynold told Mr O’Keeffe that his response was ‘ludicrous’ and that ‘it’s like saying black is not black, black is white’.

And when he tried to gain some much-needed clarity for the umpteenth time a clearly frustrated Mr O’Keeffe said ‘I’m just going to say the same thing again’.


Press secretary’s bizarre press conference

Yes I know it’s a press conference rather than a media interview, but we simply could not ignore Sean Spicer.

His brief tenure as White House press secretary included one of the most bizarre press conferences we have ever seen.

Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, Mr Spicer held an impromptu briefing which appeared to have been organised with the sole aim of attacking the gathered media.

It was a conference which broke many media relations and media training rules.



The conference got off to a bad start as Mr Spicer kept reporters waiting for an hour after the allotted start time. He then accused the media of ‘deliberately false reporting’ the viewing figures for President Trump’s inauguration.

And this theme continued throughout, ending with a tirade about holding the media to account and a threat to bypass traditional news outlets and use social media to speak to the American public.

Perhaps the most memorable thing about the press conference was the sheer anger in the delivery. Mr Spicer appeared to start in a vexed frame of mind – gripping the lectern with both hands – and his mood appeared to deteriorate as it went along. The angrier he got the more stilted his delivery became and it was noticeable that he increasingly stumbled over his words as is went along.

Not long after the conference, his shouty, angry demeanour was lampooned by comedian Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live for the first time.


Australian politician’s crocodile bridge goes viral

You’ll be hard pressed to find an interview which has travelled quite as far as the one given by Australian politician Bob Katter.

Not only did his extraordinary response to a question go viral but it also ended up being featured on The Late Show in the US.

Mr Katter found himself the subject of widespread bemusement and mocking after speaking about same sex marriage.

The veteran North Queensland politician, who campaigned to resist changing the same sex marriage law in the country’s referendum, initially appeared to have softened his tone in the wake of the country’s overwhelming vote to legalise gay marriage.



He told reporters: “I mean, you know, people are entitled to their sexual proclivities. Let there be a thousand blossoms bloom, as far as I am concerned.”

So far so good, but then came a completely unexpected and somewhat dramatic change of mood, tone, subject and facial expression.

“But I ain’t spending any time on it,” he growled, “because in the meantime, every three months, a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile in north Queensland.”

And by fusing two completely unrelated sentences together Mr Katter produced the most memorable response of the year – just not for good reasons.


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