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We may have only reached the end of the first full working week of 2018, but we might have already witnessed one of the most bizarre interviews we will see all year.
It included the programme presenter accusing the spokesperson of "wasting his viewers' time" and "only caring about one viewer" and, if reports are to be believed, ended with the interviewee having to be ‘escorted’ from the set after refusing to leave.
The heated exchange happened earlier this week on the other side of the Atlantic when White House Senior adviser Stephen Miller appeared on CNN to answer question about the book 'Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House'.
In reality, it was always likely to be a challenging interview for Mr Miller – not least because his boss Donald Trump regularly refers to the channel as ‘fake news’.
But he seemed determined to single-handily turn it into a hostile interview. Just three minutes in he accused the channel of getting a ‘lot of joy from sticking the knife in’ and a short time later accused presenter Jake Tapper of being ‘condescending’ and of ‘making a snide remark’.
And from there the interview degenerated into what can only really be described as a row as Mr Miller became increasingly irate.
Questions were talked over or ignored and accusations fired off at regular intervals.
Here’s an example:
Tapper: If you would let me ask a question…
Miller: No, because you have 24 hours of negative anti Trump hysterical coverage on this network, that led in recent weeks with some spectacularly embarrassing false reporting.
Tapper: I think the viewers can ascertain right now who is being hysterical.
Miller: No, the viewers are entitled to have three months of the truth. Why don’t you give me three minutes to tell you the truth about the Donald Trump I know.
Tapper: Because it’s my show and I don’t want to do that.
And so it went on for more than 12 excrutiating minutes.
The farcical proceedings ended with Mr Miller, when faced by a question about the President’s fitness, describing CNN as ‘toxic’, while Mr Tapper responded by suggesting the only viewer his interviewee was interested in was Mr Trump.
He then cut the interview short and read a link to the next news item while Mr Miller continued to protest in the background.
Amazingly it seems, from audio transcripts which have been circulating in the media, that the argument continued off air with Mr Miller saying ‘you should be ashamed of yourself’ and Mr Tapper counter-punching ‘This is the reason they don’t put you on TV. Okay. This is the reason’.
Whether or not Mr Miller had to be escorted from the studio as reported in some media is unclear, but given what had gone before it would not be particularly surprising.
Trump, somewhat predictably, was quick to show his support for his spokesperson, but many other Twitter users took a differing view.
Jake Tapper of Fake News CNN just got destroyed in his interview with Stephen Miller of the Trump Administration. Watch the hatred and unfairness of this CNN flunky!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2018
Mr @Potus, You and I must not have watched the same interview. To be completely honest, I would be embarrassed if @StephenMiller is one of your #BestandBrightest, because I just saw him humiliate himself and YOU. Please send him back for some media training. Just sayin'— Kamie Cicinelli (@KC92037) January 7, 2018
If Stephen Miller has received media training, the Whitehouse should demand a refund. They rarely let him speak publicly, and today with @jaketapper we saw why.— Mark J. McArdle (@mjmcardle) January 7, 2018
Stephen Miller needs media training. Or a class on how not to talk like a 6th grader. https://t.co/m930se2NFO— Ariana Arghandewal (@PointChaser) January 7, 2018
I’m pretty sure I could wait all year and not see another interview quite like this one.
From a media training point of view, it highlights just how quickly an interview can become hostile,
But as unusually explosive as it was, there are clear lessons other media spokespeople can learn from it.
Don’t get rattled or show your frustration at the line of questioning
It is crucial that spokespeople remain calm and composed in interviews even when they are being put under intense pressure or are facing questions they don’t like. We tell delegates on our media training courses that the audience is much more likely to be sympathetic if they retain their composure. Getting involved in an argument will see the interview descend into farce and result in it being memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Don’t speak over the journalist
Talking-over and interrupting a journalist can not only make spokespeople appear rude and antagonise the reporter, but it can also suggest discomfort at the questions being asked.
It can also make the interview seem chaotic, ensuring it is difficult for the audience to follow. Remain calm and let the reporter finish before getting your points across.
Similarly, we tell delegates on our media training courses that if a journalist keeps talking over their responses, or interrupting them, they should keep their composure and when the journalist is quiet say something along the lines of ‘let me finish answering your last question first’.
Don’t ignore questions
No matter how difficult an interview may be, it will only get a harder if a spokesperson tries to evade or ignore the question they have been asked. It is vital to at least address or, better still, answer the question before using media training techniques like bridging to move the conversation forward.
As extraordinary as Miller’s performance was, you also have to question the decision making of the people who put him forward as a spokesperson for this interview. It’s widely reported that he has a volatile relationship with the media and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could think this challenging assignment would end well.
For any organisation choosing the right media spokesperson is absolutely crucial.
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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