The Art of the Big Interview
Its hard to put an exact date on when the media landscape changed forever, but when it did we lost the ever-present heavyweight interview, where the well-known broadcaster interviewer, would gaze into the eyes of a similarly well-known person and pose a series of difficult questions.
Ever since the emergence of the popular Graham Norton chat show style interview, the major iconic interviews have been very much put to the back of the mind.
I’m thinking of interviews such as Nixon-Frost, where David Frost went out of his way to track down Tricky Dicky Nixon to do the heavyweight sit-down interview. The interview was chronicled by Welsh actor Michael Sheen, who captured the personality of Frost, and I dare say the rest is history.
Imagine making a major feature film about an interview taking place nowadays?
More of the great interviews would have been the two Michael Parkinson interviews with Mohammad Ali.
I was of the view that this sort of interview was over, and no more would we see the great TV interview battles of days gone by.
However, we’ve seen two very memorable TV interviews already this year, both as strange as each other. Prince Andrew gave a perfect example of how not to do a ‘setting the record straight’ big interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis. They key is to give away very little apart from the big soundbites which get carried on the news, not to inflame the situation with unwanted soundbites about eating at Pizza Express in Woking.
More recently, in the last few days, has been the rather bizarre interview which US President Donald Trump did with Axios journalist Jonathan Swan for HBO.
To be honest, many of us have never heard of Jonathan but he has a great career in stand-up comedy, or maybe even his very own talk show, ahead of him. His facial expressions, not to mention how the President managed to agree to the interview, leave us awe struck. David Frost himself said that the most important part of the interview was getting the interview.
The difference with the Jonathan Swan interview is how the journalist made surprised, bemused and confused faces to show the audience when the President was talking nonsense. He also kept up a steady barrage of fact checks, reminders that ‘’a thousand Americans are dying a day’’ and follow-up questions to crazy statements about the ‘’books and manuals’’ on coronavirus.
Trump fought back with the usual tactics of telling the journalist to do their research and making wild statements, but Swan was having none of it. He asked short, simple questions and let Trump dig his own holes.
Then we were faced with an utterly ridiculous sight; a US President waving around a crude chart with four countries on it to demonstrate America is leading the world. The visual similarities of such a scene is akin to a child’s party.
No current politician uses the media more effectively than Donald Trump. His political strategy is to divide and conquer, and every media appearance is carefully calculated to grab the media’s attention with another statement that appeals to his base and infuriates his opponents.
Like him or loathe him, in crafting this blog Trump is planning his next masterstroke in his re-election campaign, namely planning a speech at Gettysburg. I can visualise advisers cowering and running for cover.
For bringing the office of the President into the realm of ridicule, this rivals President Gerald Ford’s 1976 assertion that ‘’there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.’’
Ford lost that election.