May 2010

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.

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.

16 May 2010
I've only just got round to listening to Michael Jennings's interview with James Waterton in Hanoi. And I'm glad I did. So, the Vietnamese are a lot more relaxed than the Chinese? I didn't know that. And Australians move away because Australia's too clean? I didn't know that either.

I even liked all that honking in the background.