4 lessons from this viral media interview disaster

It was an interview which saw both the journalist and the spokesperson trend on Twitter.

And when you consider that it included accusations of bias together with a few personal insults and ended in a tantrum it is perhaps easy to understand why so many of us were talking about it.

Andrew Neil’s interview with conservative US political pundit Ben Shapiro may have ordinarily passed many of us by.

But as it veered into media interview disaster territory it captured the interest of a much wider audience and went viral.



The wide-ranging  pre-recorded interview began to go wrong when Mr Neil asked about new hardline anti-abortion laws in Georgia, suggesting it was 'taking us back to the dark ages'.

Mr Shaprio responded by saying “Are you an objective journalist or are you an opinion journalist?”

The presenter replied: “My job is to question those who have strong views and put an alternative to them.”

From there the interview continued in a similarly tense fashion, with Mr Shaprio deriding it as a ‘waste of time’.

When he was quizzed about some of his own past comments he brought the interview to a premature end.

He said: “I’m not inclined to continue with a person as badly motivated as you as an interviewer, so I think we are done here. I appreciate your time.”

Mr Neil rounded-up the acrimonious interview by saying: “Thank you for your time and for showing that anger is not part of American political discourse.”

So what media training lessons can we learn from this latest interview debacle?


Pre-recorded interviews are not always safer

There is a widely held view that pre-recorded interviews are the safest option for spokespeople.

And to an extent they do offer a little more protection and the opportunity to correct mistakes which can be particularly reassuring for new or nervous spokespeople.

But it is also worth considering how often those mistakes are still broadcast. There are many examples of mistakes in pre-recorded interviews being aired because they result in good footage.

Live v pre-recorded: What is the best interview format? 


Do your homework

One of the highlights of the interview was hearing Mr Neil being described as a left-leaning liberal.

Mr Shapiro later took to Twitter to admit that mistake, but it would have taken a minimal amount of pre-interview research for him to avoid that error.



That research would also have quickly revealed that Mr Neil has a reputation for asking the sorts of tough, challenging questions that he may not be used to on American television.

On our media training courses we always stress the importance of spokespeople researching who they will be speaking to as part of their interview preparation.

This is something which often appears to be neglected -  if you look at Mr Shapiro’s tweet you will note he says he is ‘not familiar’ with Mr Neil’s work - but it is important spokespeople understand a little about who is asking the questions. Do they typically cover your sector? What do they report on? How much experience do they have? Are they known for asking difficult questions or holding strong views?

Mr Shaprio later admitted in a tweet that he broke his ‘own rule’ about being properly prepared.



Tough questions

As obvious as it sounds, it is a journalist’s job to ask questions. And if a spokesperson is known for having particularly strong views, opposing viewpoints are likely to be put to them. They will play Devil's Advocate.

After this stormy interview, Mr Neil took to Twitter to says that he tends to 'take the opposite position' from the people he interviews to 'test their position', which serves as a useful reminder.



Journalists want to get to the truth and they need to provide balance to their stories. They also know that tough questions, where the pressure is ramped up, can make for compelling viewing – crucial when you are trying to attract viewers and listeners to your programme.

What that means for spokespeople is that they need to be prepared to face questions they would really rather not answer, as well as those they are only too happy to be asked.

And when those awkward, uncomfortable questions come along, they need to be able to remain composed.


Slow the pace

It is a relatively small point compared to everything else that is wrong with this interview, but it is hard to ignore the fact that Mr Shapiro has a tendency to talk very fast.

This is something spokespeople need to avoid as it can lead to you losing the audience’s attention and the clarity of your message.

Similarly, short answers should be avoided.  When a spokesperson reverts to short answers it shows that they are feeling the pressure. It also results in the journalist asking even more questions, which only serves to increase that pressure.



Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.


Click here to find out more about our bespoke journalist-led media training courses. Or book a place on our next media training open course



Our Services

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

Media training
Message development and testing
Presentation skills training
Crisis communication training
Crisis management testing
Leadership communication training
Writing skills training
Social media training
Video sound bites
Ways - Online learning
Ways - Videoconference
Ways - Blended
Ways - In-Person
Online learning
Training by videoconference
Identifying positive media stories
How to film and edit professional video on a mobile
Media skills refresher
Blended media skills
TV studios
Crisis communications
Presentation skills and personal impact

Recommended Reading

Media Skills Training, Crisis management, General media skills — 25 January by Adam Fisher

Mayo madness: Have brands ‘lost the plot’ over purpose?

Many brands are grappling with sustainability and purpose. They are topics that regularly come up in conversation with our clients who are increasingly wanting help telling sustainability…

Spokesperson training, General media skills, Media Skills Training — 11 January by Adam Fisher

Spokesperson shows there’s no riddle to giving a good media interview

Have you played Wordle yet? If you haven’t, you’ve probably noticed some of your friends posting cryptic grids of different coloured squares on social media and either lamenting or boasting about…