Sunday, March 25, 2007

How to Deal With an Obnoxious Interviewer

Dan Hannan did a John Nott the other day and walked out of a TV interview. Read his account HERE. I must say I have often wondered why politicians do not do this more often. If you are constantly being abused by an interviewer, why on earth would you put up with it? Perhaps it's time interviewees turned the tables a little more.

One trick I have learned in interviews is that the best way to unsettle an interviewer who is being obstreperous is to turn the question back on them and ask them to justify the assertion they have just made. Just say "what do you mean by that" or even just "explain what you mean".

It often has the effect of turning them into goldfish, opening their mouths with very little of consequence coming out. Interviewees are usually in the driving seat. They usually know more about the subject of the interview than the interviewer and should capitalise on that.

14 comments:

David Anthony said...

Does that include Selection Committes?

Iain Dale said...

I didn't know you were at the East Hampshire selection David? LOL

David Anthony said...

Do Tell...

Iain Dale said...

The chairman thought he was Paxman.

fr said...

What do you mean by that ?

neil h said...

The thing that really bugs me is when interviewees simply will not answer a straight question, and pretend that they have been asked a different question instead. If you are not going to answer, then explain why, even if it is only to say that you don't know the answer.

Saying "That's a very good question and I'm glad you asked me that" before launching into a prepared speech fools nobody. Equally, if the interviewer is being abusive then don't put up with it but explain why you don't want to continue the interview/

David Anthony said...

I think what he means by that ... is that some things should remain untold.

mark williams said...

I think it is fair enough for Selection Committees to be very tough in seats like East Hampshire. The seat represents a job for life and a good politician will hold it for ever, whereas a poor politician can lose it for the party.

Our association has a 6 figure annual income, a similar amount of cash sitting in the bank and at CCO and 1200 members. If any PPC's think they are going to take that over when our 65 year old MP retires without a grilling worthy of the Spanish inquisition, then they needn't apply.

fr said...

We get the politicians we deserve. At the last election Blair was pressed by Paxman (I think) on how many immigrants had come in. He said he did not know. Nobody believed him and it all blew over. If he had said tens and tens of thousands it would have caused a sensation in the papers and damaged his re-election. The last person our electorate will vote for is an honest politician.

judith said...

In interviews, virtually every politician talks too much.

Giving a short, brisk answer wrongfoots the hostile interviewer, because they are worrying that they will use up all the questions they have been provided with.

As a Party Officer, I was once interviewed live by R5 when IDS was in his final throes as Leader. A relative was working for the BBC at the time, and he and his dept listened to the interview - someone asked if I was a media professional (no) because the interviewer was left floundering, because I followed the short answer rule.

Glyn Davies AM said...

I have always found that one word answers are quite good for unsettling would-be Paxmans

Anonymous said...

David Trimble did just this too.....though I prefer the use of silence on radio (Brian Redhead was good with Nigel Lawson)....and the use of backstory secrets on TV....like "we were thinking of abolishing the licence fee" skipped into the conversation.........or with a Dimbleby...."how's the ex-wife, David....er Jonathan.....er both of you ?"

wonderfulforhisage said...

By and large the political interview has been ruined by Spin and its antidote - The Rottweiller Interviewer Technique (TRIT). In my book Spin and TRIT are the two sides of the same coin.

Spin at its worst takes the form of "That's a good question. Here is my prepared statement".(see neil h 8.03 above)

TRIT's worst aspect is "Here is a question with an embedded fact hidden in it. However you answer it you will be seen to have agreed with the embedded fact" - for instance "Have you stopped beating your wife?". The embedded fact is that you beat your wife.

How nice it would be if interviewers and politicians could agree to forgo these worst aspects in a similar spirit to the way they treat 'off the record' statements - one of the few Gentleman's Agreements left in Westminster?

If a politician were to break the spinning 'agreement' journalists should cut off the oxygen of publicity and refuse to have him back in the studio.

Conversely if a politician were subjected to a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question he should be able to 'call' the interviewer and coals of fire should then descend onto the interviewers head.

In the spirit of Private Eye's obn column may I say that Doughty Street interviewees and interviewers manage to avoid Spin and TRIT.

It's time for Paxman and his wanabees to learn from the new kid on the block.

Anonymous said...

So you've watched Yes Prime Minister. Well done you!