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 ...
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 (1.2) 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 (0.5) 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 (1.4) 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