Whatever you do don’t mess with the Press Office…

In an interview with Diana Rusk in the Irish News on Wednesday, Noel Thompson had some interesting comments to make on the tetchiness less of politicians, than of their minders and their press officers.

We haven’t been able to get Martin McGuinness for months now – in fact since the interview I did before his presidential campaign,” he said.

I wouldn’t care to say whether or not Mr McGuinness himself has said I am not doing Hearts and Minds, because he has been perfectly civil when I’ve seen him, but certainly the impression we had from the press office is that they were unhappy with that interview and they haven’t make him available for us since – although we ask almost every week.

It’s shame we can’t find the original #Aras11 interview. Though Slugger understand this is one explanation as to why, having said he would take part in the last ever Hearts and Minds, Gerry Kelly who is officially (and unofficially) afraid of no man, mysteriously pulled out at the last minute…

Hell hath no fury, etc, etc, etc…

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  • sherdy

    Does any politician actually like Noel Thompson?
    Or does any non-politician like Noel Thompson?

  • Mick Fealty

    You think it’s a journalist’s job to be liked?

    In case, I DO like Noel. But then, hey, he’s never shown any hint that he was even remotely interested in interviewing me, which I guess I might feel quite relieved about.

    Press offices do play these games. I remember talking on former senior pol corr on the BelTel saying that he was cut off from the SF press release list for something he’d written.

    I’ve been on fitfully in the past, but it never seems to last longer than a fortnight before someone in there throws the head up and take us off again.

    Which is their perrogative of course, but I would rather have row with someone and clear the air with them than have this sullen, graceless passive aggression.

    It’s borne of a slightly paranoid, they’re-all-out-to-get-us view of the world. That said, I’ve rarely not got an interview during election time that I’ve asked for, bar Gerry.

    Which is fair enough since, one, he’s party leader; and 2, I reckon it’s useful for him to keep up the idea that he’s never heard of me or Slugger…


  • wild turkey

    “this sullen, graceless passive aggression.”

    phrase of the week Mr Fealty. outstanding

    ah, perhaps in the future Marty, Gerry et al will only do BBC interviews with Jennie Bond.

  • michael-mcivor

    Noel Thompson- ” we haven’t been able to get Martin McGuinness for months now ”

    No Martin McGuinness no Hearts and Minds on t.v-

    simple really-

  • I once suggested to a politician that I would make a great Press Officer but his reaction was “oh my God no, youd be awful at it. Ive read what you say about journalists”.

    I gather from that exchange that it is deemed important that journalists and press officers get along with each other. I am therefore relieved and actually quite happy to realise that they DONT get along.

  • Rory Carr

    Hadn’t you heard of a guy named Alistair Campbell then, M. Fitzjameshorse1745 ?

  • He managed to be both.
    But on a serious point I think that a good relationship between Press Officer (and indeed Politicians) and Journalists is a bad thing.
    Clearly they were all too close (Leveson).
    But I actually think its bad governance.
    Press office wants a story out there…or suppressed or doctored and Journalists need a story….any story.

    The first duty of a politician is to a constituent, secondly to his/her Party.
    There is no duty to any Journalist.
    The first thing any Leader of a Political Party here should do is get his MLAs and Press Office to hand over their cell phones and delete the name/numbers of journos. And calling journos by their first names is a complete no-no.

  • Mick Fealty

    Yeah (to what Rory said)… but then again, it isn not fair to mis-characterise our local spin doctors as anything like the the arch demon of the New Labour era…

    Here’s John Lloyd on Campbell:

    Journalists, and many politicians, saw him as ruthless, manipulative and menacing. Indeed, the harshest – and sexually charged – attack came from Ken Follett, husband of the Labour MP Barbara Follett, who wrote (with Campbell the main target in his sights) that people who do the briefing, who whisper the words of poison into the ears of journalists, are of no consequence. They are the rent boys of politics, and we shudder with disgust when they brush past us in the corridor.’

    The chief rent boy was the subject of a biography by The Spectator political editor Peter Oborne, which catalogued many instances of double dealing and which saw in New Labour the emergence of a new ‘media class’, taking power for itself at the expense of elected politicians in parliament.

    Oborne, who put into general circulation the cynical insiders view that Campbell was the ‘deputy prime minister’, writes, for example, of how in opposition Campbell tried to have Andrew Marr, then editor of the Independent, fired from his post because he had opposed New Labour’s policy on Europe: the most serious charge. which Campbell says is not true, though he says he did complain to the paper’s managing director at the time, David Montgomery, about its hostile tone on Europe.

    No one I know of here is in that league. But there’s a fair amount of barging of the ref you see on the football pitch when the players want a more favourable decision out of him. Often it results in small incremental gains, and sometimes bigger.

  • Mick Fealty

    Mickey, there’s a pretty harsh truth wrapped up in there. Once the BBC decided to axe the programme, it was pretty easy to keep ignoring the requests.

  • I think thats an overly harsh criticism of Campbell. To some extent journalists did not like him before he was a Press Officer and the fact that he had gone over to the other side merely increased that animosity.
    Would the same not be true to a more limited extent of Lance Price, Andy Coulson, Guto Hari?
    Ive always thought of Press Officers as “gate keepers”….rather like doctors receptionists and priests housekeepers.

  • IJP

    I always liked Noel Thompson, top quality interviewer of genuine UK-wide standard.

    My own memory of H+M is him coming to take me through to the studio during the European campaign and asking where my entourage was. In those days, the Alliance Party didn’t do entourages…

  • 241934 john brennan

    Is Diana Rusk a political correspondent, or does she simply report political gossip?

  • Mick Fealty


    I don’t know if it’s harsh, but it is a rough trade. And its not all one way. I think you have the level of wariness kind of right, even if your proposed policy is a little wacky.

    No one in Belfast has to work as hard as Campbell had to. There’s the same corporate weight for or agin one or other party.

    In some respects the solution for a disgruntled press is to take some time out from focusing on politicians and look in some depth at the problems they are tasked with addressing.

    It’s really hard to judge a political project if you have no real acquaintance with their hopes dreams and ambitions. And if you get that close and you come to a negative conclusion, it is often hard to take.

    In my experience the pols themselves are better than the flacks (or the hacks) at taking the criticism/ betrayal…

  • Rory Carr

    “In those days, the Alliance Party didn’t do entourages…”

    In those days, IJP ? Are we to draw the inevitable conclusion about today and also perhaps, the uncomfortable conclusion that someone is being just a little bit bitchy here ?

  • lamhdearg2

    “mysteriously pulled out at the last minute”, Murphy, mystery solved?, or do I miss that subtle implication.

  • Mr Fealty youre taking me a tad too literally.
    But my strong belief is that that Stormont sucks people in. Politicians, Journalists, Special Advisors, Secretarial Staff, Staffers, Press Officers, Interns.
    In many ways the sheer geography puts all these people into a bubble.
    Some enjoy it far too much. It becomes a game. And it becomes more about backstairs gossip than policy.
    My genuine feeling is that the relationship is far too cosy and needs re-calibrated to more professiona levels……conducted at arms length.

    The essence of political journalism is not solely about reporting things. Rather it is about “knowing” things. I suppose a form of “intelligence gathering”.
    It makes me extremely uncomfortable.

  • “they haven’t make him available for us since”

    It isn’t likely to be in any press officer’s gift 😉

  • cynic2

    From the BBCs standpoint investigative journalism in local politics is high risk and expensive – witness RTE’s debacle and the huge DUP smokescreen thrown up around the Irisgate expose which deserved an award but was successfully deflected by Pete himself, though it probably cost him his Westminster seat!

    To fill the daily news the BBC need politicians and cannot afford to be cut off. This is the flip side that Levinson seems to be studiously ignoring

    SO Heartys and Minds had to go – the risk of lessee majestie was hjust too much

  • Granni Trixie

    Surely the way SF press people behave to other journos who produce negative copy about SF people reflects Republican concept of “shunning”?(which takes several different forms).

  • Lionel Hutz

    I heard from a Barrister who spent some time working for the DUP just how easy it is to get the press to say just what you want. “All they want is some good copy”.

    Are media are afraid of being shunned and when they have criticized the top dogs,the result has often been an aggressive talkingdown.

    Journalists afraid of being seen as “JAPS”

  • Peter and Martin to go on the offensive – against the press 🙂

    Leaders to launch spin offensive after ‘poor press’ coverage

    … In the summer the First and Deputy First Ministers announced a review of the Executive Information Service (EIS), which some in government believe to be ineffective.

    Mr Robinson said: “I think that the Executive has got a very poor press. There are commentators and others who almost use the word ‘Assembly’ along with ‘lack of delivery’, which is completely untrue.

    “I think that we have a job to do and you’ll probably see it being done over the next few weeks and months where the Executive will be making much more of an issue of what it is delivering so that people are aware of the work that we are doing.

    Peter’s words haven’t gone down too well with the News Letter’s headline writer.

    My blog on the ‘Belfast Deficit’ won’t have been well received up on the hill but I think it’s important to expose ‘flaws’ that emanate from that quarter; the MSM may pick this one up eventually.