Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
It's usually a bad idea to suggest that the reporter interviewing you is ill-informed, incompetent and generally a disgrace to the profession. But it always makes for great media - at your expense.
So it’s great to see one of the very few exceptions to this rule.
I wouldn’t try this myself but when Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt challenges ABC Brisbane’s Kelly Higgins-Devine’s obvious lack of research it’s a gut churning reverse train wreck of an interview.
And it ends up with the journalist apologising. Profusely.
Normally I'd limit any challenge to the journo to "questioning the question". That's a valid interview technique and to avoid conflict I’d normally use a courteous line like: “I’m sorry but could you clarify that please”.
But Minister Hunt was clearly channelling a righteous Maggie Thatcher in this interview.
Hunt’s anger is obvious from the start. While I admire his calm tone and pace, at the beginning his fury leaves him waffling and that really dilutes his message.
But the magic happens around 2:15 or thereabouts. He destroys the journalist’s questions completely by challenging her to be specific.
Even when she regroups and moves on to the next topic he corrects her again.
In the full interview she apologises again and basically says she's only filling in today for the real journo.
It’s a dangerous technique and very rarely pays off. Hunt only gets away with it because she is making abstract claims which can’t be substantiated. Quite simply she hasn't done the research.
So when is it okay to challenge a journalist?
1. When the facts are clearly wrong and can be easily refuted. But focus on what is true rather than repeating the negative, and avoid personal attacks;
2. When the claims are abstract and don’t stack up. For example “Most people think X”. Personally I’d indicate gentle scepticism and reference facts from trusted sources;
3. When the journalist is openly hostile or belligerent. It's ok to point it out, but stay gracious to keep the upper hand.
Kudos to James Dunn Journalist extraordinaire from Dunn Media for sharing this week's train wreck interview.