The Mirror

The Mirror Questionnaire with Toby Harnden

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
Font Size:

Today we unveil The Mirror Questionnaire, a lengthy list of questions we’re posing to a person of special interest in Washington. Could be a reporter, politician, flack or lobbyist — or anyone else in the political or media arenas we think would make for good, juicy Mirror subject matter.

Our debut interviewee is: Toby Harnden, Washington bureau chief for The Sunday Times of London. Harnden, according to his outgoing message, is gallivanting around France right now and accepting emails from a strange account we’ve never heard of. So we’ll let him be. To be sure, Harnden is a huge LinkedIn fan. So be sure to follow him there, endorse his credentials and make fun of his English accent upon his return to Washington. He has worked for both the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. On a side note, he loves it when reporters discuss sperm in the newsroom. His question for our next interviewee may well become a permanent part of The Questionnaire.


Bona Fides

Hometown: Born in Manchester, United Kingdom but now a U.S. citizen resident in McLean, Va.

Age: 47

Named for: No one

First job ever: Royal Navy officer

Current employment: Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times of London. It’s a bureau of one. I find the boss good even if the workforce can be a little troublesome at times.

If someone wants to get on your good side, what candy or liquor should they ply you with?

A Mafia hit man in Youngstown, Ohio, once gave me a bottle of his homemade wine. It was about 40% proof. Tasted awful but I was anybody’s after a few glasses. Then there was the drug dealer pilot who’d run guns for the IRA who spiked my whisky during a night out in San Diego. I woke up the next day in a place I didn’t recognise with no recollection of the previous 12 hours. I tend to avoid drinking with psychopaths these days.

Most exotic place you’ve ever visited:

Tonga in 1986

Who is your celebrity crush?

Jenny Agutter

A thought that makes you want to cry:

My children being born.

Weirdest habit you’ve observed in a newsroom setting?

I’ve tried to avoid newsrooms most of my career. There was once a colleague who insisted on loudly discussing her sex life on the phone. At one point she was spoke to her boyfriend in a baby voice about his sperm count, reassuring him: “I know it doesn’t sound like many, but it only takes one.”

If you had to have a U.S. senator or congressman as your father, who would it be?

It would be quite fun to be the bastard son of the late Texas congressman Charlie Wilson.

Since this is “The Mirror Questionnaire,” what would you change about yourself physically, if you could?

My kids tell me I have very smelly feet.

And your personality?

I have a tendency to leave things to the last minute and to lose my keys a lot. When the two things are confined, it can be stressful.

Preferred beach:

Kovalum, India

Guilty pleasure TV show:

I don’t watch much TV, but my wife and I tend to binge watch stuff like The Wire and Mad Men. We just saw all 86 episodes of The Sopranos.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how self-obsessed are you? (10 being you can’t tear yourself away from your own daily Google search and 1 meaning you often spend time in the country away from your computer and don’t give a crap about your Klout score.)

What’s a Klout score?

Workout regimen:

I try to run three miles a day with our dog Loafer.

Pick one — flabby thighs, cankles or love handles?

Love handles

A thought that brings you great joy:

Proposing to my wife on a park bench by the Thames

A regret (of any kind):

After I was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2005, there was a fleeting moment in the police station when I could have made a run for it as I was being fingerprinted. I ended up spending two not especially pleasant weeks in prison. This year, I found out that my great-grandfather had escaped from a POW camp in Germany in 1916. My four-year-old son’s first reaction to this was to ask: “Why didn’t you escape, Dad?” Just for the sake of family pride, I wish I’d given it a go.

Any brushes with death? If so, please describe.

In terms of fear of dying, being pulled out of a car by the Mahdi militia in Kufa in 2004 was right up there. We were questioned at length afterwards. My mouth went completely dry. Seeing bullets hit the ground around my feet in Sadr City when a U.S. Army patrol I was with came under attack was an even closer call. But the biggest danger in that period in Iraq from 2004 to 2006 was probably that of kidnap. For years afterwards I had nightmares about being beheaded.

Just a preference Q: Bo or Sunny?

Neither. Mutts all the way and long live the Washington Animal Rescue League and pounds everywhere.

Most annoying thing your editor does:

Tell me that a story idea is “inside the Beltway” or that British readers haven’t heard of this or that person.

Go for a stroll in the park with one of the following and explain the reason for your choice. 1. Andrew Sullivan, of The Daily Dish. 2. The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart. 3. NewCo‘s Glenn Greenwald.

Glenn Greenwald. He’s outside the DC bubble, utterly fearless and his own person. Plus presumably the stroll would be in Brazil, which I’ve never been to.

Please provide a question for the next lucky victim of The Mirror Questionnaire. Make it good.

If you could tell one person to their face that they’re full of shit, with no consequences, who would it be?

Have someone you’d like to recommend for The Mirror Questionnaire? Write me at