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

For Part I, see here.

So, I’m in my live one-to-one, what do I do?

Be on your guard.  I recall the case of an aquaintance who was invited to appear on breakfast TV.  He showed up for the interview and behind the scenes it was all charm and “We’ll just ask some simple questions” etc but the moment he was in front of the cameras it was straight into most aggressive hard-ball grilling imaginable.

Get the tone right.  Stay calm.  Be polite.  Do not raise your voice.  Prove you are a human being not a nutter.  Swear if you want to but don’t expect to be asked back.  And, if you do, make sure it’s of the “Fuck me” rather than “Fuck you” variety.

Be honest.  If you don’t know say so.  OK, it might be a bit embarassing if you’re supposed to be the expert but lying is a far worse.  And so it should be.  I’ve said elsewhere that honesty is hard work.  It sounds odd but it’s true.  For instance, why do you believe what you believe?  Because I bet it’s not for the reason you think you do.  For my part I start from two axioms: one, violence is wrong and two, violence doesn’t work.  Which is why I am happy to opine on issues like DDT even though I know next to nothing about the subject.

Take your time.  You do not have to respond immediately.  Sure, your interviewer would like you to and might well apply all sorts of pressure to make you do so - after all broadcast media hate silence.  But that is their problem not yours. 

Do not tolerate aggression.  Make it absolutely clear that you’d rather walk out than tolerate rudeness and abuse.  If you are on the receiving end of it try: “You’re being aggressive.”  If the interviewer tries to brush you aside, try: “You’re still being aggressive.”  If he continues say: “I’ll give you a minute to regain your composure.”  And in that time, say nothing.  Read a newspaper.  Check your emails.

Do not tolerate error.  The typical interview question comprises, outrageous assumption, dubious fact, dodgy opinion and finally, after all that a question on a largely trivial matter.  If the questioner is stupid enough to enough to leave these hostages to fortune the least you can do is ransom them.  So, try: “Is that the most important question?”; “Your report was wrong.” (if there was a report beforehand); “What makes you think that?”; “You’re wrong.” or, if you’re not quite sure: “I think you’re wrong.”

Keep it short.  If the interviewer can leave hostages to fortune so can you.  The less you say, the less he can pick you up on and the harder it becomes to divert the course of the conversation.  When you’ve said what you have to say, shut up.  It’s what happens next that is fascinating.  Interviewers just love leaving a pause in in the hope that you’ll fill it.  Resist the temptation.  You’ll say something stupid.  One (and possibly the only) admirable thing about Edward Heath was that he would never fall for this.  He would say what he had to say and shut up.  The interviewer would leave in a pause hoping for more and Heath would silently revel in the awkwardness.

Don’t be scared to repeat yourself.  If you get asked substantially the same question give substantially the same answer.

Remember this is serious.  So, no grinning about.  No smugness.

Make the moral argument.  In the unlikely event you actually get an opportunity to outline your opinions lead with the moral argument ie violence is wrong.  Unlike facts, it’s awfully difficult to disagree with and gives you the moral high ground.

Practice.  Perhaps by watching a few grillings and working out what you would say instead.

So, Patrick, have you ever put this into practice?

No.  Not in an interview but I have in private conversations with a few aggressive types.  They don’t like it.

Will you, when the time comes?

I am not optimistic.  Most of this is pretty radical - not the stuff of media training courses.  And the media can be quite intimidating.  My guess is that in the unlikely event I ever got asked for an interview I would start off with all the passionate intensity in the world and end up lacking the slightest conviction. 

But maybe I wouldn’t.

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