Media Training: Our Take...

The Defence Secretary... and not answering the question

30th May 2018


When it comes to tough questions, we suggest to anyone we media train that you need to address the elephant in the room.

When the Defence Secretary failed to do this during an interview on Good Morning Britain, an elephant wandering past him in the Safari Park background may not have been a sign, but it was certainly surreal and led to former Number 10 comms chief Craig Oliver describing it as Alan Partridge-esque.

Stand-in presenter Richard Madeley repeatedly asked Gavin Williamson whether he regretted telling Russia to “shut up and go away” during the Salisbury poisoning case. First Mr Williamson paid tribute to medical staff. Asked the same question again, he talked about the UK working with its global allies. The question was ignored 4 times in all before Madeley declared the interview “terminated”.

Watch the interview here and see for yourself...

Now it wasn’t Paxman vs Michael Howard of 1997, but it does show what happens when you choose to ignore rather than address a question. Ignoring a question is a red rag to a journalist, so it’s about acknowledging and addressing the question in some way, even if you're trying to avoid a direct answer to it.  

The internet is littered with examples of ignored questions, like this one from Blackberry’s Stephen Bates, and Mr Williamson has just become another YouTube search. It won’t do any lasting political damage but it will, what with all those elephants, make it hard to forget.

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