A vintage season for car-crash TV interviews

It’s been a vintage month for connoisseurs of the car-crash TV interview. Two of them were with convicted ex-Telegraph owner Conrad Black, who certainly doesn’t mince his words. Unlike most interviewees, who try to keep their temper even when facing tough questions, Black was quick to fight back; indeed he seemed to deliberately go out of his way to be insulting.  ‘Stop being a jackass’  he told Adam Boulton on Sky News. Over on Newsnight, he accused Jeremy Paxman of being a ‘priggish gullible British fool’. Whatever you think of him, Conrad Black is a smart fellow, and this must have been deliberate; an attempt to get himself back in the headlines so he would sell more copies of his new book. To many viewers, it was a refreshing change from the mealy-mouthed politician or company spokesperson who churns out politically-correct platitudes.

he appeared grumpy, arrogant and egotistical
It did not make us warm to the former mogul however; he appeared grumpy, arrogant and egotistical. Fight your corner by all means when under pressure, but you are more likely to be rehabilitated (in the eyes of the British public at any rate) if you are willing to eat a little humble pie – we might even start to feel sorry for you. Here though it was a case of ‘no contrition – no sympathy’.

By contrast the former A4e boss Emma Harris acted as little more than a punchbag when she appeared with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News, and certainly needs better media training. The company, which runs programmes aimed at getting the unemployed back into work, was accused of taking millions from the British taxpayer for almost no result. She had very little to say, except (like Conrad Black) that she had been wrongly accused. She stumbled and struggled, disputing the programme’s figures but with no credible alternative to offer; essentially she allowed herself to be beaten up for ten minutes. The lessons? Never go on to deny accusations unless you have a strong, compelling alternative to get across instead. Stand up for yourself but with extreme politeness and keep your temper if the interviewer becomes too belligerent but you appear reasonable, you will usually find the viewer sympathy transfers to you.