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Mark Landler, London bureau chief of The Times, was at dinner with his family last week when he received word that Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, was suddenly in deep political danger with two cabinet resignations. He canceled his food order and ran home to start writing the news.
The moment was “one of the occupational hazards of being a foreign correspondent, of being any reporter,” Mr. Landler said.
During his tenure as Britain’s leader, Mr. Johnson attracted attention for his flamboyant personality and was embroiled in an increasing number of scandals that eventually led to his downfall.
Mr Landler, who has led the bureau since 2019, has previously reported on the Johnson government’s exit from the European Union and life in Britain afterwards. Now he covers the battle to name the new leader of the Conservative Party. Below, he talks about what it’s like to report on a polarizing politician, and how the future of that coverage might play out. This interview has been edited.
What surprised you in the coverage of Boris Johnson?
Like Donald Trump, who I talked about before I talked about Boris Johnson, he is a non-stop headline maker. Whether it was in his personal life, his financial shenanigans, his lack of truthfulness on political issues, his tussle with the European Union, the guy was basically a non-stop geyser of news from the minute I got here until the moment he announced his resignation.
There’s nothing surprising about Boris Johnson anymore, because he’s one of those people who can say and do just about anything, which is somewhat similar to my experience covering Trump in the White House.
Is it hard to keep up or are you used to it?
It is both. You get used to it and you just work at that metabolic level. But the hardest part is that you have to keep finding words and ways to describe and evoke that person in your readers. With Boris, you always have to be careful not to say that this is the biggest scandal that has befallen him, because in a week there will be another, more extravagant one.
You get used to his pace. But you have to keep challenging yourself to find fresh and new ways to write about it and expand people’s knowledge, not just reinforce what people already know over and over again.
Should you think about his actions more critically than others?
Iwe should be very critical of any elected official. With Boris, there is something extra that you need to apply. Back to the Brexit campaign: it was founded on this erroneous figure, which cost the British entry into the European Union. It was an extremely valuable slogan. He basically did variations of this the entire time he was in office.
Everything that Boris says, you take with a grain of salt and you need to treat it carefully. And often you find that it dissolves when it comes into contact with real facts.
Do you see Johnson’s coverage continuing in the same way?
He will have to decide what role he wants to play in the country’s politics. I think the difference between Johnson and Trump is that even now Trump is playing an extraordinary role in making a king in the Republican Party. I don’t think we’ll see any comparisons to this in the UK
Apparently he could start writing the column again, which he did very profitably before he became Prime Minister. He has a biography of Shakespeare on his desk that he needs to finish. So we will by no means hear the end of Boris Johnson; he will be vocal in British public life. But I don’t think we’re going to cover him the way the paper covers Donald Trump, because I don’t think he’s going to have the iron grip on his party that Trump has on the Republican Party.
It’s a very interesting experience when you’re talking about a leader who’s so flamboyant, who breaks the rules and who’s so unpredictable. He’s kind of the journalist equivalent of a full-time job. You feel a bit of a loss when someone like that leaves.