Tough political interviews

Can you imagine starting a conversation with your neighbour over the fence with ‘so are you an insensitive bastard?’ or sitting down to a family dinner and asking your Dad ‘have you let the family down?’ These are the kind of tough, first up questions our politicians face on a daily basis now it seems.

I first noticed the phenomena a couple of months ago after Tony Abbott survived a leadership spill. I tuned into his tough political interview with Leigh Sales that night. She opened with ‘are you a dead man walking?’… Wow! Imagine if someone opened with that at a dinner party. Wouldn’t that be a showstopper?

Some months later Julie Bishop appeared on The Project and Waleed kicked off the interview with a similarly brutal opening question, asking her if she had Peta Credlin’s permission to be there. Ouch! It’s no wonder politicians are so guarded during these interviews. It’s surprising they even agree to endure them in the first place.

In my short commercial radio career, the terms of engagement for an interview of any sort were very different. Generally it was ‘you answer some questions, then I plug your book and everyone goes home happy’.

No such understanding seems to exist for political interviews though. Leigh Sales never ends an interview urging viewers to ‘check out Bill Shorten’s website’ or ‘like Joe Hockey’s facbook page’. Politicians are just forced to try to ignore their brutal interrogation and sell their positive message any way they can. They ignore the journalists questions and the journalists ignore the their answers. It’s always tense and unfulfilling.

If the commercial radio rules of engagement were in place maybe these interviews would run better and everyone would get along better. ‘Alright Minister, I’ll come at you hard on Assylum Seekers and then we’ll get onto how good your new tax benefit is, we thank each other and throw to the new one by the Fooies’.

I thought it was really interesting hearing Julia Gillard’s recollections on being in government during the first installment of The Killing Season on ABC last week. What she though was going to be a feelgood story (the $14.7 billion dollar school building project) turned out to be a nightmare. ‘We kept trying to sell it but you couldn’t get a positive story up about building the education revolution for love or money’.

She should have come on my radio show. I mean, I endorsed a children’s book written by Brendan Fevola in exchange an interview. Plugging the Rudd government’s education revolution would not have posed a problem for me. All I would have asked for in return was an interview with Ms Gillard and a short promo. Something like ‘This is Julia Gillard and when I’m not knifing the sitting prime minister I listen to the Peanut Gallery on Triple M.’

What is the most brutal opening question you can remember from a political interview? Leave a comment below…

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