A PR, I’m proud to have spent a little time (shock, horror) coaching people in techniques supporting the open trade secret that you don’t answer the question that’s put. Hearing people blame a manipulated media for bias, is icing on the cake. The truth is, as Laban Tall demonstrates here, even the most accomplished interviewer cannot force an answer from a determined interviewee when they’re up against the clock. Laban’s in yet another tizzy at John Humphrys, a man bitterly criticised for rudeness, precisely because he so often does try to force an answer.
Spin is simply assembling facts (or alleged facts) in order to support a case and/or defend an interest (legitimate or not). The danger for apparently honest souls is not only that they have no defence against the ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’ questions, but that they have little chance of moving discussion onto their ground.
On being given the chance to broadcast your views through whatever media, make sure you’ve something to say. Spin doctors have responsibility for reputations, jobs, investments, the case for/against war, whatever. Yet for the journalist, it’s just another story. With a determined agenda you’re far more likely to articulate a solid line and make good copy, than a time waster giving straight answers to straight questions.
Leftwing Labans will be complaining at how Tory leader Michael Howard was let off by BBC Radio 1. If he’d stuck to the questions, he’d have no chance to list his ‘ten words for young people’ so he was right to answer in his own way. But asked by a listener ‘without slating the government, what’s the one thing you’d change about Britain today?’, Howard replied that the government had lost trust… That’s just bad technique. He had his ‘one thing I’d change answer’ all prepared and wasn’t about to be blown off course by a questioner’s constraints. Yet he was too obvious: he could have met the condition and still said ‘trust me’.