Storming out of a live TV interview never ranks among the top tips of media trainers. Exasperating as interviewers can be, walking off set more often comes across as petulant than defiant, particularly when it’s the kind of fodder today’s political and media journalists love to cut (selective) clips from in order to create a piece of thoroughly trivial TV puffery that bloggers then feel compelled to write about and hate themselves for.
Yesterday’s piece of bait was an exchange that took place between Sky News’ Dermot Murnaghan and Shadow Business Secretary Chukka Umunna. According to the headlines a ‘furious’ Mr Umunna ‘stormed out’ of an interview after he was asked to comment on a letter that he hadn’t read.
If you watch the video it’s not nearly as exciting as that. But it does contain a few useful lessons on interview etiquette:
Mr Umunna was asked to comment on something he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of and he rightly tried to shut it down and move on. Although this is a good idea from a PR perspective, at the same time it’s pretty disingenuous given that the letter in question was the top news story of the day in the UK and Mr Umunna, a senior member of the Opposition, should have read or at least been properly briefed on its contents in advance. The same lesson applies (to a lesser extent) to ordinary mortals outside the world of politics. You should always be aware of the big stories in your area, if only so that you are not caught off guard and know how to handle the curve ball question you aren’t expecting (or don’t want to take).
2) If you are informed but are still going to plead the ignorance line you should be prepared for the journalist to give you a hard time, as evidenced by…
3) The snippy and irritated line of questioning from Mr Murnaghan . He attacked Mr Umunna for refusing to comment on the letter until he’d got the ‘party line’ straight and then tried to box him into the corner and put words in his mouth by asking whether the letter ‘was patronising to Muslims’. This was a classic aggressive interview technique and one that Mr Umunna didn’t fall for. It’s usually not a good idea to call the interviewer ‘ridiculous’ though. They generally don’t like it.
4) Always remember the value of smiling when closing something down. Mr Umunna looked annoyed. How much better his performance would have looked if he had smiled patiently at being asked to comment on something he hadn’t read. Perhaps he should have taken up the offer of returning half an hour later with an informed answer.
In the end it was a visibly peeved Mr Murnaghan who cut the interview short when he couldn’t get a direct answer/attributable quote to his question. His surly line of questioning about the ‘party line’ made him look pretty bad. He ended up ‘winning’ the headlines battle on a technicality, though because it was pretty silly of Mr Umunna to get up and leave, particularly when the interview was clearly ending.
So overall, null points on both sides. But clearly, a pair of disgruntled egos.