Saturday 9 July 2016


Here's a postponed post that should have been posted at the time (Saturday 9 April, early evening). I post it now (Sunday, early evening), unchanged....

As to why I didn't post it at the time I'll let you guess.


It's not every day you get to debunk Guido Fawkes, but Guido has posted a piece this afternoon saying that Rachel Sylvester of The Times "contradicted her own story [regarding Andrea Leadsom and Motherhoodgate] hour later" on the BBC this morning. 

Guido's evidence is RS saying something on the BBC News Channel at 9:04 and then seeming to say something completely different at 10:04

Both quotes, however, come from an 8.10 interview on BBC Breakfast, which the BBC News Channel then drew on and recycled at 9:04 and 10:04 respectively. 

So Rachel Sylvester didn't contradict herself "an hour later", despite what you might read at Guido Fawkes. 

Guido got it wrong.

I know that because I transcribed the 8.10 interview on BBC Breakfast and monitored the BBC News Channel throughout the morning. (I do know how to enjoy a rainy Saturday morning!)

The bit "at 9:04" (according to Guido) is marked in red. The bit "at 10.04" (also according to Guido) is marked in purple:

Jon Kay: This is causing quite a row, isn't it? Let's start with Andrea Leadsom's own comments because she's described your piece as 'gutter journalism'. She wants a retraction. What do you say to that? 
Rachel Sylvester: Well, I'm slightly baffled to be honest. I asked a very straightforward question and asked her what is the difference in her view between her and Theresa May and she had two answers. She said 'economic competence', which she argued based on her experience in the City and business, and then she said 'family', and she talked about her children, her brothers and sisters. And then I remember that she had said...during the EU referendum debates she'd quite often talked of herself as a a mum and making the argument for Brexit from that angle. So I said to her, 'Did she feel that motherhood informed her politics?' And I thought the answer was very heard some of it in that clip there...that she drew the contrast...she raised Theresa May and the fact she doesn't have children herself. You know, it was she who introduced Theresa May into the whole discussion. I didn't mention her. And then she drew the contrast. So I don't think it's gutter journalism. I just think it's journalism. It's accurate journalism. I asked a question, she answered it, I reported what she said. 
Jon Kay: She did also say...I've got the transcript here...she said, "I don't want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't got children' because that would be really horrible". But when you look at the front page of The Times - the headline 'Being a mother gives me an edge on May - by Leadsom' - what she says was "horrible" is what you've written up, isn't it? You can see why she'd be upset? 
Rachel Sylvester: But she then also went on to draw that contrast herself. I don't know whether there's a sort of naivety to that. I don't think necessarily she was trying deliberately to be cruel, but certainly it was naive to say make that comparison and then expect that that doesn't become an issue. You know, she's trying to become prime minister of this country. Judgement and character matters as well as policy. And I think it's completely legitimate to report these comments. She said it. I didn't. 
Jon Kay: You're a journalist. You're not a politician. You're not one of the people, I assume, who's going to be voting in this leadership campaign now within the Conservative Party. But where do you think this leaves Andrea Leadsom? Do you think...You question her judgement. Do you think she should stay in the race? 
Rachel Sylvester: Well, I think it's quite interesting. There may be some Tory grassroots traditionalists who rather like the idea of her being a mother and emphasising that side of her life, but there will be others, I think, who worry about a lack of judgement and who worry that it's not a sort of serious way of dealing with issues and also think, actually is it really relevant? And, you know, I don't think it actually is. 
Jon Kay: It's interesting as well. We were talking earlier about the fact that this is two woman campaigning to be the next leader of the Conservative Party, our next prime minister. Do you think we would even be asking these questions...? Do you think we'd be focusing on parenthood and whether that makes somebody fit for office, or better for office, if we were talking about two men in this race? 
Rachel Sylvester: Well, that's what was so that she introduced the issue of family. I didn't raise it at all. In fact I said to her, you know, in terms of the difference between her and Theresa May, did she think it was, you know, continuity and change or Brexit v non-Brexit. And it was she who introduced the question of family. And she clearly thinks that's a big selling point for her, particularly with the Tory grassroots. But it wasn't I who introduced that. She did.

Guido Fawkes is BBC-like is saying "apparently contradictory" in the body of his post. He means 'contradictory' without qualification of course but adding "apparently" adds a nice, 'impartial' note, doesn't it?

Was it contradictory though? 

From what I've heard from the available audio though (which appears to be the bit that matters), the present evidence is that RS is completely in the clear as regards Guido's 'apparent' charges against her. She hasn't been debunked at all.

Andrea Leadsom did bring up "family" first. Only then did RS bring up the family/'mum' question and ask whether it "informed her politics".

There's nothing "contradictory" about what RS said ("apparently" or otherwise) on the BBC this morning.

As for the Times report itself, the headline -  Being a mother gives me an edge on May - by Leadsom - was a bit naughty. Yes, it wasn't placed in quotation marks but nowhere did Angela Leadsom use the word "edge" and unsuspecting readers probably did assumed it was a quotation. That was the Times headline writer's doing though rather than Rachel Sylvester's.

Even so, that headline did give the gist of what Mrs Leadsom was saying - however much her defenders try to pretend otherwise (and some of them are behaving like the wackiest cybernats and Corbynistas today).

And that's something that listening to the fuller audio versions makes even clearer. Whether through misspeaking or naivety, her statement that her comments weren't to be connected with childless Theresa May were completely contradicted by everything she went on to say.

It's as if I were to begin a post about BBC bias by saying, "I'm not talking about BBC bias here or being rude about BBC presenters but Dan Saladino of The Food Programme is a deeply biased piece of sh*t and wholly typical of the biased, Eurofanatic morons who present too many programmes for the biased BBC these days".


Ah yes, BBC bias! It was fascinating observing the BBC's reporting of this story this morning.

BBC Breakfast led with it, but was rather restrained about committing itself. It was all 'ifs' and 'maybes' from both presenters and BBC reporter Eleanor Garnier. And this question - cited above - from Jon Kay to Rachel Sylvester shows at least one BBC presenter trying to do 'the right thing', impartiality-wise:
She did also say...I've got the transcript here...she said, "I don't want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn't got children' because that would be really horrible". But when you look at the front page of The Times - the headline 'Being a mother gives me an edge on May - by Leadsom' - what she says was "horrible" is what you've written up, isn't it? You can see why she'd be upset? 
Today, in contrast, wasn't remotely non-committal. John Humphrys in particular nailed his take on the story very firmly to the mast throughout:
John H: She didn't actually use the word 'edge' and The Times does use the word 'edge' but apart from that The Times' reporting is accurate, isn't it?
Eleanor G: It seems to be.
John H: Well, we have heard a large chunk...we have heard some of it...unedited and she clearly did say what you've just quoted her as saying. So one wonders quite why Mrs. Leadsom is taking this approach. I mean, you could understand it if she was trying to finesse it a bit and say, 'Well, what I really meant was...', but to call it "disgusting"? Hmm.
Eleanor G: Yes, and to try to directly pull back completely from the quotes...
John H: Exactly.
Eleanor G:...completely.
And his later interview with pro-Andrea Leadsom MP Penny Mordaunt was one of those interviews where the BBC interviewer was so keen to debunk his guest that he spent 42% of the entire interview (and, yes, I counted) talking at her and interrupting her. (Pro-Theresa May-MP Antoinette Sandbach, in contrast, wasn't interrupted once and got to speak for 78% of her interview).
JH to Antoinette Sandbach
  • Miss Sandbach, let me come to you first. Why should she not have said that?
  • But what harm has she done by saying it?
  • But it might be that many mothers would say being a mother gives you an extra perspective, it gives you a different sort of understanding, which if you are not a mother you don't have?
  • I think I'm right in saying that you don't have children. Forgive me for asking, but I'm asking because I want to ask you whether you are personally offending by this?
  • Well, thank you for that.
JH to Penny Mordaunt
  • Penny Mordaunt, what's your reaction to that as a supporter of Andrea Leadsom?
  • Well in that case what did she mean when she said - and I quote verbatim - "Being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country - a tangible stake." Now if that doesn't mean not being a mum means you don't have that same stake it's a very curious construction, isn't it?
  • (interrupting): Well, sorry, can I just interrupt you there for one second. It isn't a question of "lifting quotes". I have...and we just heard a part of it...a verbatim transcript of this part of the interview in front of me and what she says is: "Genuinely, I..."...she does say, you're quite right, she does say, "I'm sure she will be really, really sad because she doesn't have children so I don’t want this to be 'Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t' because I think that would be really horrible"...she does indeed say that...but then she goes on to say, "Genuinely I feel being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country. A tangible stake, " and then she says, "It really keeps you focused on what you are really saying because what you're saying is you don't want a downturn but never mind, let's look to the ten years hence, it will all be fine. My children will be starting their lives in the next ten years, so I have a real stake in the next year or two." It's perfectly clear what she's saying, isn't it? You can't undo that?
  • (interrupting - indecipherable): Soppernoffacation!
  • (interrupting): It's a reporting of what she actually said! You can't undo what she has said by what you subsequently say, can you?
  • (interrupting): No, no! She's made it clear that having nieces, or whatever it is, is different. She is quite explicit about this. Having nieces is quite different to having children.
  • (interrupting): It's called 'politics', all of that, isn't it?
  • (interrupting): Well, whether it should be or shouldn't be, it is. And the fact is that people use the weapons at their disposal, don't they? That's the way politics works.
  • (interrupting): What's 'poor'?
  • (interrupting): Well indeed, and maybe The Times will may it available. But even if they don't surely you would have to say of somebody who wants to be the prime minister of this country that she should think very carefully about the words she uses in answer to a question like this? If she has enough judgement...if she had the sort of judgement that says 'Well, that question is a bit of a bear-pit. I've got to be a bit careful about what I say. Whatever I may or may not think, I've got to be a bit careful because I want to be prime minister and certain standards apply.' So the question is: Does she have the judgement...let's put aside the detail of what she said...she has left, created a particular impression...Does she have the judgement that is needed?
  • (interrupting): And if it's true that she did bring up the subject of motherhood herself in this interview, then you would take a different view, would you?
Was that bias? I am hearing AL supporters getting tougher interviews than TM supporters. Was this an example of that? Or did Miss Sandbach and Miss Mordaunt both receive the treatment they each deserved on this occasion? On this case, I'd give a 'no' to the first question and a 'yes' to the second one. Penny didn't cover herself in glory this morning.

As for Sarah Montague's interview with Rachel Sylvester, well, that was sympathetic. Here are her questions/comments today:
  • Now we're going to play a little clip of this in a minute but can you just set it up for us? You were chatting to her in a cafe, interviewing her about what?
  • She's challenged what you have said about it. She's asked for a transcript. So we have got your audio from this interview. Let's hear a clip from it.
  • Now The Times has written it up under the headline 'Being a mother gives me edge on May', attributing it to 'Leadsom' - not in quotes, but she didn't actually use that word "edge", did she?
  • And in terms of how it will play...I mean there are a number of ways. There is that question of it being personal. and at a point where the party had talked about uniting, but it may also...what she's saying...there may be people who listen and think she's right.
  • The reaction to that is 'Look at Angela Merkel'. There are plenty of people who don't have children.
  • There's men too, of course.
  • Has, she's obviously been very public...she's tweeted to say the way you've written it up is the complete opposite of what you said, which is why you're releasing this audio. Have there been complaints to the paper?
  • And any comments from Theresa May yet?

As for later in the morning on the News Channel, well, Gavin Esler was drinking the same water as John Humphrys, for example:
Gavin Esler: I mean, the core of this is Andrea Leadsom wishes to be prime minister of our country. She was giving an on-the-record taped interview with a leading journalist, who's very well respected.  She said what she's said, and now she's suggesting she's disgusted by it. I don't quite get that.
Eleanor Garnier: Yes. She's trying not just to say her words have been misconstrued but actually she very blatantly said 'I don't want to make this a big thing out of me being a mother and Theresa May not being a mother' yet went onto then make the difference and make it quite clear.
The assembled left-liberal panel on Dateline London weren't sympathetic to Mrs. Leadsom either.

And Gavin's point about Rachel Sylvester being "very well respected" was picked up by Anita Anand on this afternoon's Any Answers (where not a single pro-AL caller appeared): a respected political journalist. I have to say that. Rachel Sylvester is a respected political journalist who has no reputation for cooking stories that I'm aware of. 
There's been so much bias around today. The BBC, oddly, hasn't been anywhere near being the most biased. And nor has The Times.

1 comment:

  1. Hang on, wasn't there a recent debate where the women on stage were talking about how how important Remaining in the EU was to them as mothers? It was fine then, why is it a low blow now? He asks, rhetorically.


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