Structure of an Interview

Sometimes asking questions in an interview is just not the right ‘structure’ if your interviewee does not want to answer them. Here we see Channel 4 news anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy (KG) interviewing the Conservative MP Tobias Elwood (TE) who clearly does not want to answer questions about what Dominic Cummings had said earlier in the day. Elwood even states that explicitly in lines 11-12.

(Only part of the interview is transcribed. You can listen to it by clicking the ‘External link to audio‘ or visiting the Channel 4 website through the link at the end of this post. The interview was conducted at a distance which complicates the conversation leading to delays in turn transition. )

01 KG: Mr Elwood 
02  Dominic Cummings said he heard 
03  Boris Johnson saying
04  that he’d rather the bodies piled up
05  than have another lock down
06  something the 
07  Prime Minister has explicitly denied
08  do you believe Dominic Cummings
09  or Boris Johnson
10   (1.5) 
11 TE: no I don’t think that’s the right 
12  question to ask
13  but I understand [why you want to 
14 KG: [well it’s the question I’m asking actually
15  y’know to put 
16  so (.) so just answer it
17    (1.5)
18 TE: well I will answer it in my way
19  but all I’m trying to explain
20  is that this was very illuminating 
21  it was very candid

External link to audio

Notice how KG comes back in at line 14 to assert his rights as interviewer to ask the questions – ‘so just answer it’. TE refuses directly in line 18.

The Channel 4 interviewer again explicitly states who has the right to ask questions but the interviewee avoids the question again. Notice the face threat in line 46 – ‘give this interview some structure’ suggesting that interviewer is asking the wrong questions.

22 TE: [that in fact we didn’t 
23 KG: [alright hang on no no no 
24     [let me ask the questions
25 TE: [appreciate the speed of this pandemic
26 KG: let me ask the questions Dominic-
27  Tobias Elwood
28  I’ll I’ll ask you the questions
29  it’s the better way to do 
30  an interview 
31  if it’s true that
32  Matt Hancock
33  told the Prime Minister
34  that people would not be returned to care homes
35  without being tested
36  that’s disastrous isn’t it
37  he’s got to resign
38 TE: you’re asking me to comment 
39  on somebody who was at the heart 
40  of government
41  the most powerful person other than the Prime Minister
42  and it’s not my place 
43  er to do so
44  my two take aways 
45  if I can
46  give this interview some structure
47  is firstly to make it very clear

KG picks up on this in line 54 by asserting that it is the interviewer’s right (not interviewee’s) to structure an interview.

48 TE: that transmission 
49  when it [started in China
50 KG:      [yeh Mr Elwood
51  I’m I’m [grateful to you for coming on
52 TE:      [we had less than a dozen cases here
53 KG: but it’s not your job 
54  to try and structure this interview 
55  it’s mine 
56  I’m asking you really simple question about
57  who you believe
58  now are you saying you don’t believe Dominic Cummings
59  cos if that’s the implication
60  then just say it
61  (1.5)
62 TE: it’s (.) it’s not
63  I’m not going to give erm
64  any form of justification to Dominic Cummings
65  er evidence today
66  which is all about score settling

The interviewee however again comments on the structure of the interview in lines 72 onwards when he says the interviewer should have ‘got the hint’. A small chuckle also adds to the face threat.

67 KG: now (.) the question is
68  if these things are true
69  how can Matt Hancock 
70  remain as health secretary
71 TE: well 
72  I hoped you would have got the hint already 
73    ((chuckles))
74  I’m not going to rise 
75  er to to that
76  I’m not gonna er
77  sorry stoop to that level
78  to make comments


The interviewer eventually closes the interview.

79 KG: Tobias Elwood
80  thank you very much for
81  joining us

It seems that more and more these days political interviewees are choosing which questions to answer and trying to ‘structure’ their own interviews. It is a form of role reversal.

Channel 4 News 26th May 2021

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