Anyone who’s ever listened to local radio knows that interviewers are not always as well informed as they, or indeed we, would like. But cack-handed questions that betray a profound ignorance of the subject can crop up on mainstream radio and TV programmes too. Often they throw interviewees into panic—they don’t know where to start in responding. What to do?
Rule 1: don’t make the interviewer look even more stupid by pointing out he or she is talking nonsense. It won’t win you friends, or help you to get an easy time during the rest of the conversation.
Rule 2: take it somewhere useful. Try answering the question you think he meant to ask, perhaps rephrasing it to make sense, as in “well I think you’re getting at the whole issue of X, how serious is it and what are we going to do about it. Well I think the answer to that is …” Or if you really don’t know what he’s on about—or suspect it’s an area you can’t/don’t want to talk about—don’t waste time asking him to re-phrase it, especially if he’s floundering around. Better to try helping him on to a more productive angle which is part of your own agenda, such as “well I think the key issue here is one of Y—we’ve always made it very clear that …” and so on. If he wants to come back to the original issue, he can always try again with another question—hopefully this time with greater clarity.