Broadcast news viewers have always been fans of a good, old-fashioned grilling. Watching a politician dissolve under the laser-guided questioning of a journalist such as former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has always made for compelling TV viewing – just watch The Thick Of It’s Ben Swain appearing on Newsnight for an indication that news can be as much entertainment as public service.
A recent trend of ‘punking’ guests live on air, however, seems to have moved this phenomenon into the social media age. Conservative MPs Liam Fox and Sir Michael Fallon have both fallen foul of what we’ll refer to as the ‘broadcast booby-trap’ – where they have been cunningly misdirected, or compromised by the broadcaster live on national television in an effort to generate a neat, tweet-worthy clip. This is a new consideration to us when conducting broadcast media-training, and while our PR spokespeople aren’t often subject to the same scrutiny as MPs, it’s important to bear in mind that falling for traps can lead to the worst kind of exposure: an embarrassing viral clip.
“Just as a point of clarification, I didn’t send out a tweet,” said Dr Liam Fox MP, whilst sitting in front of an enormous screenshot of the tweet in question; this came from his actual profile complete with a head and shoulders shot (pictured). The clip was widely circulated back in March 2017, after the Conservative MP was left red-faced on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday when responding to accusations that he tweeted:
“The United Kingdom, is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century”.
He then went on to explain that someone else had tweeted the words, and that they had been taken out of context from a speech he delivered at a Scottish Conservative conference. It was an embarrassing mix-up, as Fox was unaware or had forgotten that the tweet was from his own account despite clearly understanding the context. It did however generate the perfect shareable headline. This new type of interview gaffe makes for both fantastic television, and a ready and waiting social media clip, and journalists know the publicity they will receive should a clip go viral.
Sir Michael Fallon MP was the next to be caught out by some particularly crafty misdirection live on Channel 4 News. Krishnan Guru-Murthy highlighted the following quote:
“Isn’t it possible that things like the Iraq war did not create the problem of murderous Islamic fundamentalists, though the war has unquestionably sharpened the resentments felt by such people in this country and given them a new pretext?”
Fallon, believing the quote to be from Jeremy Corbyn, began to condemn the notion, until he was reliably informed that it was in fact his foreign secretary Boris Johnson who said the words in response to the 7/7 bombings in London. Labour activist and writer Owen Jones retweeted the clip, proving how a popular a simple interview stunt can be on social media. As broadcasters look more and more to cater for their social media outlets, we expect to see more examples of this type of deceptive interview style, particularly in the current climate where ‘fake news’ is such a talking point.
We hope that our spokespeople would never be faced with one of these traps, but we are always looking at new ways to bullet-proof our media training in these changing broadcast landscapes so that they are effectively prepared for any scenario. Social media is constantly changing the way we operate in the broadcast PR world, and we have to keep our fingers on the pulse!
For more on our media training techniques, check out our blog here. If you’d like to give it a try yourself, why not book into our ‘Media Training Taster Day’? We’re hosting hour-long groups of 4 from 14:00-18:00 on 7th September. Head here for more details on how to book in (they’re always really good fun!).