Like Woodward and Bernstein 50 years ago, The Sun’s Noa Hoffman and Kate Ferguson are a journalistic duo who helped bring down a head of government.
Whereas the Watergate investigation lasted more than four months, Hoffman and Ferguson’s story was just four hours from tip-off to publication.
Rising star Hoffman, 25, is keen to play down her part in Boris Johnson’s downfall.
She says her revelation about groping allegations against Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher a week before Boris Johnson’s eventual resignation was “one of the dominoes in a long line” of stories by a variety of news outlets that led to that moment.
She joined The Sun from her first lobby job at Politics Home just four days before breaking the story on 1 July that then-Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher had allegedly groped two men on a night out and resigned from his role as a result.
The story took less than four hours in total to publication from Hoffman receiving the tip-off, including help from Sun deputy political editor Kate Ferguson and the story being legalled. Hoffman (pictured, left, with Sun lobby team) said: “It was very, very fast moving and very exciting as well but I definitely could not have done it without the support of The Sun and Kate in particular.”
Pincher had the whip removed a day after Hoffman’s story broke but the reaction to Boris Johnson’s handling of the allegations, and subsequent stories by titles including the Mail on Sunday and BBC News revealing the PM had known more than he claimed about previous complaints, contributed to his resignation from Downing Street one week later.
Hoffman told Press Gazette: “Some people were saying in a very nice way ‘this story has brought down the government’ but that’s just very much untrue.
“It was one of the dominoes in a long line,” she said, pointing to Partygate stories about lockdown-breaking gatherings in Downing Street broken by Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar and ITV News UK editor Paul Brand, as well as BBC News political correspondent Ione Wells’ story on 4 July putting forward the “final evidence” that Johnson had previously been made aware of a formal complaint against Pincher.
“So it was the result of so many different lobby stories, but it’s very exciting – but also weird – to know that you’ve played a part in history,” Hoffman said.
[Read more: The scoops that brought down the Prime Minister]
She also emphasised that despite the positive attention, “the most important thing is… putting out a story that’s in the public interest”.
Hoffman added: “It just shows how hard working the entire lobby is, in holding people in power to account and in making sure the public can be informed about what happens in the sort of mother of all Parliaments – what elected officials are doing with the time that you gave to them because you voted them in there.
“There were no intentions to any single story, other than disseminating information. There was no motivation beyond that. What happens next is up to the public and how they react and it’s up to MPs and how they react. We’ve got no say in that. We just put the facts out there and put the story out there and then the rest is up to the other players involved.”
The Sun’s deputy political editor Kate Ferguson (pictured, third from left), who has been promoted to political editor of The Sun on Sunday starting later in the summer, shared a similar sentiment, telling Press Gazette the UK media takes its job holding power to account “incredibly seriously” but the consequences of that depends on how the Government responds.
The Sun’s agenda-setting exclusives in the past year also included the news that then-Tory MP Neil Parish watched porn in the Commons chamber and the British Journalism Awards 2021 Scoop of the Year winner revealing Matt Hancock had breached lockdown rules with an office affair.
Referring to these and the Pincher scoop, Ferguson said: “I think what those stories tell you is that those are times when MPs have not lived up to the expectations we have with them, whether or not it’s breaking the rules you set or criminal behaviour or inappropriate behaviour, and it’s always incredibly important that the media expose that when they hear of it, and that’s what we’ve done at The Sun and we’re proud of those stories, and that’s indeed what colleagues across the lobby across Fleet Street do, too.
“But if you’re asking me what impact that had on Boris’s government, I think that it’s all about a government’s handling of those scandals – when they get the headlines, are you perceived to handle them well? Do your MPs think you’ve done enough, you’ve done the right thing? What does the public think of that? And I think that is usually the trickiest part for the Government and if you don’t get that right, that’s when things can really come unstuck.”
The day before Johnson’s resignation earlier this month, the Mirror’s Crerar tweeted: “As Boris Johnson’s woes mount, a big shout out to Noa Hoffman and Ione Wells for their Chris Pincher scoops which – after Partygate and other scandals took them to the brink – have been [the] final straw for many Tory MPs. The future of the women’s lobby is bright.”
Hoffman told Press Gazette it made her “so happy” to hear someone “as esteemed as Pippa” saying this.
Explaining why it was so important to celebrate women in the lobby, Hoffman said: “I don’t want to sound like any sort of victim or sob story, but it is a lot harder being a woman in the lobby just because of normal everyday sexism that filters through to every workplace including Parliament, and then also age as well -when they see younger women or even younger men a lot of people just assume that you are less competent or you understand less.
“One MP once tried to explain to me what a select committee is – I’m in the lobby, it’s a bit weird that you think I wouldn’t know that.”
But she added that within the lobby itself there is a group of younger journalists who have “got each other’s backs”: “There’s healthy competition, but everyone is so happy for other people, no one is out to get anyone else.”
The Sun has unveiled a new-look seven-day lobby team which it said strengthened its “commitment to non-stop politics coverage”. In order of left to right in main picture:
Ferguson, who is “proud” to have been named the first female political editor of a Sun title, said it was “still important” to celebrate these landmarks and that the newspaper’s lobby team under The Sun editor-in-chief Victoria Newton has “pushed on female talent”.
“I think it’s important if you’re covering politics to always have a range of experiences and voices, I think probably the paper only benefits from that.”
Ferguson said she believes covering politics in the Westminster lobby is “the best job in the world”, adding: “I think women are some of the best lobby reporters and I think anything that would encourage more women to come to the lobby and enjoy it and make a real success of it is a good thing.”
One of the rampant problems with being a woman in journalism, however, is online trolling and abuse. Overnight Hoffman went from having a small following to getting a lot of attention – she is now at almost 20,000 Twitter followers – when she broke the Pincher scoop, but that came with “a lot of trolls and very nasty people”.
She said: “People love to bring women down when they’re doing well, and especially being a Jewish woman as well there’s an added target on my back too so that can be quite difficult.
“But it’s definitely very much overcompensated by all the great opportunities and support from really lovely people.”
Picture: The Sun
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