It’s an often necessary but rarely tidy journalistic exercise – locating and asking pertinent questions of an unwilling participant who has gone to some effort to avoid them.
Boris Johnson exclusive:
Ex-PM says new lockdown allegations ‘total nonsense’
He had dined with former presidents George W Bush and Donald Trump.
He had given speeches, at least one for a reported six-figure sum, and spoken on a range of issues – Ukraine, in particular.
Mr Johnson had covered some distance and considerable subject matter.
But he hadn’t covered COVID, until we caught up with him upon his departure through Dulles Airport in Virginia.
And “doorstepping” the former prime minister wasn’t tidy, as he was escorted by aides and security personnel towards a check-in desk, initially reluctant to answer questions.
As we zig-zagged our way through an airport concourse, with a characteristic ruffle of his hair he did – eventually – decide he would answer questions on the matter; to be fair, at one point he stopped a security officer from intervening with: “He’s from Sky News, he’s entitled to ask me questions.”
In doing so, he cleared up doubts as to his defence regarding new claims of lockdown breaches – sort of.
But in the haste of a doorstep Q&A, the denial lacked detail.
“Completely nonsensical,” is how he repeatedly described claims that he breached lockdown rules at Chequers and Downing Street – a “load of absolute nonsense,” he added.
They are emphatic statements that convey an outright dismissal, the indignation of a man who speaks in banner headlines.
But this is a police matter and they will want more, as will the Commons Privileges Committee.
Their questions will look to calibrate consistency in Mr Johnson’s case for his defence and assess how his story fits together.
There will also be evidence, as written down in ministerial diaries.
Would more breaches be fatal for ex-PM’s career?
In considering how an investigation might proceed, consider Mr Johnson’s answer to us: “There are tens of thousands of entries in the prime ministerial diary. I’ve never seen these things before – I’ve looked through it – none of them constitute a breach of the rules during COVID.”
Any investigator will wonder how the certainty of that response squares with him never having “seen these things before”.
Maybe it was loose wording, maybe it was more.
Certainly, he will be asked to clarify and the documentation itself should help to settle the issue, with the truth as a matter of record.
It’s all part of a wide-ranging inquiry that is important for a number of reasons to a number of people, not least members of the public who sought leadership during the pandemic and feel let down.
There are questions that reach far beyond the machinations of the Conservative Party in this, however far-reaching it is politically.
The question Mr Johnson didn’t address directly in our “doorstep”, though, was the one central to his future.
If he is found to have breached lockdown rules again – is he finished as a politician?