Former Guardian assistant editor Michael White has described female political journalists as “predators” who target “poor old, ugly backbenchers” in the hunt for stories.
White’s comments, made on yesterday’s BBC Media Show, have been criticised by a number of journalists, with Sun political editor Tom Newton-Dunn saying White “may want to apologise” for the “outburst”.
The discussion followed concerns over the conduct of MPs as claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour have surfaced in Westminster.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon today resigned from government after he repeatedly put his hand on journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee in an encounter 15 years ago.
Hartley-Brewer has dismissed the incident as “mildly amusing” but in a statement today Fallon said what had been “acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now”.
Fresh claims about Fallon’s conduct are also understood to have been raised, but reports say Downing Street has refused to comment.
According to The Times Fallon was accused of referring to one journalist as a “slut” in a bar in 2010. It is alleged he made derogatory remarks about Bryony Gordon, a Daily Telegraph columnist, while drinking.
Tory activist and journalist Kate Maltby, 31, has also alleged in an article for The Times that cabinet minister Damian Green made inappropriate advances to her .
White said: “We live in a highly sexualised society and the power doesn’t all lie on one side. Clever attractive women looking for stories, they can play the power game to poor old ugly backbenchers with bad breath.”
Asked whether it was the victims’ fault he replied: “I didn’t say fault, I said they were the predators.”
White added: “To her credit Julia Hartley-Brewer…said ‘I’m not a victim’. She’s certainly not, she’s a very tough woman.
“She’s younger, stronger and probably taller than Michael Fallon. The idea that Hartley-Brewer was going to be victimised by Fallon, and a lot of these pretty pathetic guys some of them, it’s not quite as cut and dried as its presented in the newspapers whose offices are also not above criticism of course.”
The Telegraph’s senior political editor Kate McCann said on Twitter in response to White’s comments: “So, according to Michael White, as a female lobby journalist I am a ‘predator’ who tricks ‘poor old ugly backbenchers’ to get stories.”
She added: “As if it’s not hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman working in politics without senior male journalists saying this stuff. Furious.”
Jane Merrick, co-editor of daily email newsletter The Spoon, said White’s comments had been a “disgraceful thing to say”.
Newton-Dunn said White was “utterly wrong about female lobby hacks”.
White later said on Twitter that following his radio appearance “two tough women journalists of my age rang to congratulate me for saying it”.
He also reaffirmed his earlier statement, saying: “…We have all heard some awful things in recent days. But not all such predatory power is held by men, we need to remember that too.”