Prince Andrew’s grilling by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis is definitely the interview of the year.
The widespread criticism and hullabaloo would have anyone believe it was a ‘car crash’ and Prince Andrew should never have done it. I am not sure I agree.
Prince Andrew – car crash interview?
To me labelling this as a ‘car crash interview’ is simply journalists quoting some self-publicists who know how to grab the headlines.
First, if Prince Andrew hadn’t eventually done an interview, the very same media now saying it was a car crash – would have been saying it was time he broke with tradition and gave his side of the story. In this day and age, the public, encouraged by journalists, believe they have a right to a full explanation. There is no such thing as privacy for the Royal Family or many others.
Prince Andrew knows this.
And everyone knows it is infuriating to be accused of something (for 8 years so far) without being able to tell your side of the story.
He sounded like a man who wanted to set the record straight
I believe Prince Andrew weighed it up and on balance decided he wanted to have his chance to set the record straight. In the past, the Royal Family has not done this. They have stuck to the ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule. Of course, there have been exceptions: Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 and more recently Prince Harry and Megan’s ITV interview on the difficulties of dealing with non-stop press intrusion.
I watched the Prince Andrew interview very carefully, paying particular attention to the body language and also looking for a level of coaching. This sort of long-form interview is very different from three minutes to get your point across. We all know the public will decide whether someone is lying or not based not on what they say, but on the impression they give. Any side-stepping or ‘bridging’ will give the impression of guilt. (This assumes the watcher was open-minded at the start of the interview).
Prince Andrew come across as completely credible
What I saw was completely credible and I totally fail to see how the interview itself was a ‘car crash’. His Royal Highness blowing his top, or demanding the questions were inappropriate would have been a car crash. If he had contradicted himself it would have been a car crash. If he had stumbled and look shifty and defensive it might have been described as a car crash. He did none of these things.
One of the things I look for above all else is the coherence of the argument. Were there any bits that didn’t add up? I could not hear any.
Most of the people claiming it was a car crash are not specific about why they believe that. But there are three strands of criticism of the interview itself.
- The Prince should have shown more compassion, sympathy, concern, etc. for women who were trafficked for sex.
- He should have apologised or shown regret for his friendship with Epstein.
- His choice of words in categorising Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’ was inappropriate (but quickly corrected).
From where I sit these would have been minor improvements to a very well handled interview. I fail to understand why so many people should be so vitriolic about someone cautiously regretting a friendship! Since when was being friends with the wrong sort of person a crime. Especially if they were not a close friend and especially if you did not know what they were up to. As for concern for the women (or indeed any victims of paedophilia), he was not asked about this and if he had artificially inserted this into the conversation all the Twitter trolls who are convinced he is guilty would have just howled that it wasn’t real.
Body language was mostly well controlled
Some have criticised his body language. Given that very few of the allegations were new to him it is a bit difficult to get much from the body language. You are not seeing the first reaction to new information. There were some accusations (staying at a beach house four times a year) that clearly did hit the mark. They were new to him and he was outraged because he believed they were untrue. We briefly saw the outrage because (it seemed) he had not heard this accusation before. That we could read in the body language but it did not harm his credibility.
I have friends who did not believe a word Prince Andrew said. Their reaction was: We know what men like him are up to. Who is he kidding? They are all at it.
I also have friends who think it was a credible and impressive interview and he came across as a guy who wanted to put his side of the story over.
It does seem worth saying that while the angry, the disbelievers, the haters of privilege, etc. are all over Twitter, there will also be a group of cooler heads who judge things differently but who are not choosing to share on Twitter.
Was it right to do the interview?
For me, Prince Andrew handled the interview extremely well. He answered each question directly, did not try to control the interview, gave detail and whilst not being overly emotional, he certainly showed his vulnerability.
I recommend Emily Maitlis’s own account of the interview in the Times (behind a paywall) and will quote her here:
‘Our news world is so often full of bland figures trying wilfully to be more bland. Say nothing. Avoid scrutiny. Dodge and deviate from every question asked. And whatever comes of this, I must admit to respecting an interviewee who is prepared to approach head-on every single thing that he is asked.’
The more you say, the more everyone else says
However, it is not clear whether doing the interview was wise. It was certainly a high-risk strategy. And the problem is that the more you say, the more everyone else says. He took this issue from a low-level grumbling story to front page across the world for three days. He opened the gates to a feeding frenzy of people who were never going to believe a word he says because he is a man with money, power and privilege.
I suspect this is why the Prince’s new PR advisor, Jason Stein, resigned ahead of the interview. He would have been blamed for the feeding frenzy and it would have blighted his career.
Although the coverage of the last few days has been bloody and fuelled by huge amounts of ‘fake outrage’ on Twitter, not to mention a lot of PR people wheeled out to say it was a mistake, the key question is what happens in the next three months? After all this venting, will more come out? Will the story continue to be as toxic for the Royal Family or will everyone move on, having had their say? That is the real gamble.
If one believed in honest journalism in the modern world, you would hope that there are some investigations going on into the other side of the story. After all, fuelling the fire in the way this interview did, also makes the protagonists a subject of more interest.