Richard Madeley pulled the plug on his interview with Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, last week because Mr Williamson kept avoiding his question. Madeley’s decision seems to have been popular. He did what he did ‘on behalf of the viewers’. There is a false assumption here, which runs deep in our culture and gives interviewers a massive advantage over their subjects. If someone asks us a question, we think it is rude or evasive to refuse to answer. Sometimes it is (and Mr Williamson certainly was evasive), but we do not subject the questioner to the same scrutiny. Why has he picked that particular question? What right has he to set the entire agenda of the encounter? Is his editor whispering in his ear that he must try to ‘get’ X on the subject of Y? Is he exploiting the interviewee to promote his own career?
Those interviewed are entitled to use all counter methods to wrestle the interviewer on to the matter they wish to talk about. If they wriggle out of difficult questions, that may well count against them, but it does not justify stopping the interview. Imagine the self-righteous indignation of the broadcasters if the interviewee dared to reverse the process and pull the plug on them.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, which appears in the forthcoming issue of the magazine