19 May 2010
Patrick Crozier’s Compleat Guide to Dealing with Media Interviews (Part I)

As (sort of) promised.

Why on earth do we need a guide to dealing with the media? Why not, when asked, just show up and answer whatever questions they ask?

Because the media are not your friends.  That’s not to say they are necessarily your enemies it’s just that they do not exist to help spread libertarian ideas.  At root they - and I include the BBC in this - are businesses.  What they sell is sensation.  And they would just love you to help them with that - wittingly or otherwise.

Now sensation is a double-edged sword: it can work for you or against you.  But there are good reasons to think that for the most part it will work against you.  Most journalists have spent lifetimes steeped in a marinade of statism.  They genuinely believe that there is no problem to which state violence is not the solution.  The libertarian message, of course, is the precise opposite.  They don’t like it and so, will take great pleasure in making a fool out of you.

If you let them.

So, your first job is to prevent them making a fool of you. 

Your second job is to demonstrate to the viewers, and more importantly, the interviewer that you are a human being.  I know this sounds a bit odd and it deserves some explanation.  Unfortunately, it’s one of those things I feel instinctively without really being able to explain why.  Just being able to demonstrate that you are cool, calm, that you have thought about what you’re saying and that you have some empathy with the wider public seems to me to far more important than what you actually say.

Your third, and very much final job, is to spread libertarian ideas.

So, how do I go about that?

Well, the first thing is to choose the ground.  There are a number of different ways in which you might be interviewed: one-to-one live; panel live; one-to-one pre-record, door step.  Now door-steps (where the reporter camps outside your doorstep) tend to be reserved for those caught up in scandals and so it is not something we have to particularly worry about here.  But pre-records we do.  The problem with pre-records is that you are at the mercy of the editor.  He can delete the good stuff and keep the bad stuff.  He can separate questions from answers and slice and dice.  Your only real defence (apart from not doing it at all) is to make your own recording and make it available.  I suppose we can make an exception for plain vanilla background pieces such as the one on Guido that Brian Micklethwait spoke to Radio 4 for a few years ago.  Even then…

Panels - where there is more than one interviewee - are almost as bad.  They put an enormous amount of power in the hands of the chairman.  And, boy, do they exploit it.  What particularly annoys me about the process is the way chairmen will invariably ask each panellist a different question.  What are you supposed to do?  If you answer the chairman’s question you don’t answer the first question.  If you answer the first question - which is presumably the more important - it makes you sound as if you are avoiding the second.  You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The other thing that annoys me about panels is the way that the rude and aggressive almost invariably come out on top.

Which leaves one-to-one live.  If you have a choice this is the one to go for.  This is the one where the media have the least amount of control.  You can say “fuck” and there’s nothing they can do about it.  Not that I advise that you do that.

Part II here.

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