"Gotcha journalism" is a pejorative term used by media critics to describe interviewing methods that appear designed to entrap interviewees into making statements that are damaging or discreditable to their cause, character, integrity, or reputation. The term is rooted in an assertion that the interviewer may be supporting a hidden agenda, and aims to make film or sound recordings of the interviewee which may be selectively edited, compiled, and broadcast or published in order to intentionally show the subject in an unfavorable light.
The term derives from the word gotcha, a contracted form of "got you", and emerged in political journalism during the 1980s and 1990s.
"Gotcha" journalism can be used to get a subject with something genuinely discreditable to hide to reveal wrongdoing;[clarification needed] there can be a fine line between robust and gotcha journalism. Some methods claimed to be gotcha journalism by those involved include moving away from the agreed upon topic of the interview and switching to an embarrassing subject that was agreed to be out-of-bounds and leading the interviewee to discuss it and commit to a certain answer, then, confronting them with prepared material designed to contradict or discredit that position.
Gotcha journalism is often designed to keep the interviewee on the defensive by, for example, being required to explain some of their own statements taken out of context thus effectively preventing the interviewee from clearly presenting their position. The intent of gotcha journalism is always premeditated and used to defame or discredit the interviewees by portraying them as self-contradictory, malevolent, unqualified or immoral.
It has also been used as an excuse to evade a question to which the interviewee does not know the answer, where their lack of knowledge would make them appear foolish or uninformed, or a subject where their intellectual position contradicts their past statements.
The notion of Gotcha journalism was highlighted during the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic where daily press briefings were held in numerous countries by heads of government with journalists allegedly frequently asking similar, repetitive questions designed to 'catch out' politicians as opposed to asking questions pertinent to the concerns of members of the public during the pandemic. It was hypothesised that the public were frustrated with 'repetitive' gotcha political questions at the press conferences, and a poll during the pandemic by YouGov found that in the United Kingdom the public trusted politicians more than television and newspaper journalists. In the United Kingdom, members of the public were invited to ask questions to government ministers from 27 April onwards.
Some in government have been told polling suggests that when it comes to popular approval, journalists have problems of their own – the public are said to be frustrated with “repetitive gotcha” political questions at the press conferences.