Was Leadsom a victim of gutter journalism? Or was she just naïve?

Was Leadsom a victim of gutter journalism? Or was she just naïve?

Print interviews are more dangerous than live broadcast interviews. Let me repeat that. PRINT INTERVIEWS ARE MORE DANGEROUS THAN LIVE BROADCAST INTERVIEWS.

In a live broadcast interview the viewers take what they’re given and make up their own minds about the bits that are most important to them. But in a print interview – perhaps lasting 30 minutes – the journalist is free to pick on one thing, one comment, and make it the whole story.

Andrea Leadsom won’t be the last person to learn this the hard way. Yes, she was at pains to tell Rachel Sylvester of the Times that she didn’t want the Conservative leadership election to be about how she has children and Theresa May doesn’t. But she then went on to say how having children gives her a “very real stake” in Britain’s immediate future. And it’s all too easy for a journalist to interpret that as meaning that anyone who is not a mother lacks such a stake.

From Sylvester’s point of view, Leadsom’s comments must have seemed like gold dust. A journalist is paid to find and write stories, the bigger the better, regardless of how good or bad it is for the person or organisation involved. And, boy, did Sylvester do that, slapped right across the front page under the headline: “Being a mother gives me the edge on May – Leadsom”. As we’ve seen, it was so damaging that it has resulted in Leadsom stepping down from the leadership contest altogether.

This wasn’t gutter journalism. It was simply journalism. Sylvester sensed the possibility of a good story, and framed her questions accordingly – gently and with faux innocence, probing Leadsom about her views on motherhood and politics, and inviting her to say more than she intended, until she got what she was looking for. Fair cop.

Listening to the recording gives us a fascinating insight into how big news stories come about. Leadsom, a relative novice at major interviews of this sort, had no idea that she was stepping into Sylvester’s net. Then, once the article had been published, she was horrified and cried foul. That’s entirely understandable. But, later, she admitted to being naïve.

In future, Leadsom’s sure to tread more carefully with print interviews, and to be a little less trusting. She’ll remember that however friendly, obliging and innocent a journalist sounds, their job is to find hard news.

As a result, she’ll also remember this important lesson: never tell a reporter anything you wouldn’t want to see as the headline the next day.

Article date

July 11th, 2016

Robert Taylor

Media Trainer


My main passion is media training, and I’m proud to be one of the UK’s most experienced and successful trainers in this field.


  • Then possibly all for the best. If she is “so naive” to fall at this first hurdle because she is unused to interviews better now than later when it really matters.

  • Points made RT, but I disagree the principle. Journalists aren’t looking for news, they are solely interested in sensational copy. Rather than spending time trying to trip up a self-confessed naive politician for the sake of a sensational – and ultimately fatal – headline, would it not be more credible for what once was a profession to ask about attitude, policies, and style? At the time of the interview, the British people had the opportunity to appreciate who Andrea Leadsome was and for some to make up their mind as to whether to vote for her. That opportunity was shattered at the altar of sensationalism.

    Part of the reason that we have such dross representing us, that many excellent candidates who could make a huge difference to the way in which our country is run and our overall prosperity and well-being shy away from public office and why politics in general is such a dirty word, comes directly from this type of journalism.

    Andrea Leadsome had done nothing wrong. But now her legacy is the woman who had to pull out of the race as she a) was bigoted and bitchy about another woman’s fecundity, b) schemed to use whatever underhand methods she could to scratch her way to the top and c) when it came to it, didn’t have the balls to manage the interview.

    None of the above is true.

    So thank you Rachel Sylvester and The Times for robbing the British people of the opportunity to understand more about Andrea Leadsome. I guess in journalistic circles that’s a job well done, even if it is at the expense of the rest of us.

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