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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.
Just pre-taped an interview with BBC’s @afneil. As I’m not familiar with him or his work, I misinterpreted his antagonism as political Leftism (he termed the pro-life position in America “barbaric”) – and that was apparently inaccurate. For that, I apologize.— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 9, 2019
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.
.@afneil DESTROYS Ben Shapiro! So that's what that feels like ;)— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) May 10, 2019
Broke my own rule, and wasn't properly prepared. I've addressed every single issue he raised before; see below. Still, it's Neil 1, Shapiro 0. https://t.co/UAtAUtIWtO
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.
Mr Shapiro is not the first person to think they can discern my own views from the questions I ask. It’s a mistake but one folks make all the time, especially on Twitter. https://t.co/FCvKRn3ky0— Andrew Neil (@afneil) May 11, 2019
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.
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