Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
Back at the start of the year, I bought the UK Commonwealth rights for The Briefing, Sean Spicer’s book on his time working for Donald Trump. It was quite a coup for Biteback at the time.
My boss at LBC was very keen that I should get him to do an interview on the station – if possible, exclusively. I had a policy of not interviewing Biteback authors with new books because of the obvious conflict of interest but, since I left Biteback at the end of May, I saw no conflict of interest in interviewing him now.
It didn’t go well. I’d seen his interviews on Newsnight and Good Morning Britain, and it was clear that he was a man who didn’t like answering questions. Rather than concentrate on those he’d already tried his best to avoid answering, I thought I’d try a different tack.
It all started to go pear-shaped when I pressed him on whether he thought it was right for Vladimir Putin to be invited to the White House. He kept saying, “Well, the White House position is….”
I said that I wasn’t interested in what the White House position was: I wanted to know what his position was. What was his own opinion? And it went downhill from there. In the end, he’d decided that he’d had enough – and terminated the interview. I don’t think I’ve ever had a guest do that before.
The trouble is that he expected the whole interview to be about his book – and, in America, it probably would have been. American interviewers are uber-deferential, even to former Trump aides.
Here, it’s different. Yes, we’ll talk about the book, but we also want to talk about some contemporary news issues. Hey ho. I recently took Richard Madeley to task for terminating an interview with Gavin Williamson, and said I thought he had failed as an interviewer. There’s part of me that thinks I failed in this interview because Spicer ended up walking out – but, in the end, if a guest wants to be an utter dick, there’s little that I as an interviewer can do about it.
The point of Spicer doing these book promo interviews is to sell more books. I doubt very much whether his interviews on Good Morning Britain, Newsnight and with me helped sell a single extra book. That’s not Kate Garraway’s fault. It’s not Emily Maitlis’ fault. It’s not my fault.
It’s the sort of thing that makes a publisher tear their hair out. Given that I have no hair, you now know why.
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Well done to Paul Staines, a.k.a Guido Fawkes for his recent new recruits. To lose two of your key members of staff in Ross Kempsall and Alex Wickham, and at the same time, must have been a bit of a blow
But he this week just announced (via an Amol Rajan scoop!) that Hugh Bennett and Tom Harwood will be starting soon. Hugh has been working for Jonathan Isaby at Brexit Central, while Tom Harwood has created a strong online presence during his studies at university. I wish them well.
Talking of the word ‘scoop’, it has been completely devalued of late. To me, a scoop implies the publication of a major news story that no one else knows about. Watergate was a scoop. The Cambridge Analytica story was a scoop. The Keith Vaz rent boy story was a scoop. This week, the Westminster correspondent of the Yorkshire Post tweeted “SCOOP: Transport Secretary delayed on train for an hour.” Whichever way you try to interpret that tweet, it may be many things, but it is not a scoop.
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At one point last week, Julian Smith looked to be in danger of losing his position over ‘Pairgate’. But like the Prime Minister, he’s survived until the summer recess, and is safe in his position. For now.
But to many of his flock of Conservative MPs his credibility is shredded. And if whips lose the trust of MPs, they are finished. I’d almost guarantee that at the next available opportunity Smith will be reshuffled into a Minister of State position and be replaced. Who should succeed him? I’d say it needs to be someone with a bit of experience and who’s popular among the parliamentary party, but who also has a bit of steel. Step forward, Mark Harper. Just a thought.
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Mamma Mia 2? Forget it. Such a disappointment, given the brilliance of the original. However, if you’ve never seen The Greatest Showman, do yourself a favour and buy the DVD. Best film I’ve seen in years, and with the most amazing soundtrack.