Humphrys was interviewing Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson on Thursday morning about sexual harassment when she suddenly asked if he had apologised to former China Editor Carrie Gracie.
The 74-year-old, who earns between £600,000 and £650,000, was caught making light of Gracie’s resignation last month after she quit in protest over women at the corporation being paid less than their male counterparts.
Swinson put Humphrys on the spot at the end of an interview over a report detailing sexual harassment at Westminster.
“While I’ve got you here John,” she began. “Can I ask whether you’ve apologised to Carrie Gracie for your remarks over her courageous stance on equal pay?”
Humphrys interrupted Swinson as she was speaking to say he had emailed Gracie after the audio of him joking about her resignation with the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel was leaked.
“I wrote her an email to Carrie Gracie immediately after that exchange,” he said, clearly riled. “Yes, I did as a matter of act. She [Gracie] replied.”
“I’m very glad to hear it,” said Swinson nodding as she looked at him across the studio.
“Quite what this has to do with what we’re discussing I fail to see but there we are,” he added, trying to move things on.
Swinson laughed and said it “wouldn’t be the first time a question has been thrown in at the end of an interview”.
“It wouldn’t but they are usually slightly more relevant and this is entirely irrelevant. There you are. I’ve answered your question,” Humphrys said.
The programme then moved on to a segment about woodpeckers.
Listeners condemned Humphrys’ claim that the question was irrelevant.
Tory MP Nicky Morgan said “well done” to Swinson and said: “How revealing that his attitude is to question why the treatment of women by the BBC is ‘relevant’ to an interview on sexual harassment.”
The Sunday Times’ Lorraine Candy said: “It was relevant and it is relevant.”
Women’s Equality Party co-founder Catherine Mayer said it was “so revealing” that Humphrys saw no connection between his attitude to female colleagues’ pay and sexual harassment.
Barrister Harriet Johnson said Swinson’s question and the subject they were discussed both related to how women were treated at work.
Humphrys’ exchange with Sopel has dogged him ever since. Tory Minister Tracey Crouch reportedly refused to appear on Today during a round of media interviews in January because of his comments.
When ITV News doorstepped Humphrys at his home, he told them that he and Sopel were “winding each other up” during the conversation, which he called a “joke”.
He added it was a “jocular exchange” and called it “complete rubbish” to suggest he opposed equal pay.
A report on the salaries of the BBC’s on-air talent last year revealed Humphrys was the corporation’s highest paid news broadcaster.