Worst interviews

This is in spiritual preparation for the interview meme that’s going round.

Some time back, asked me for my worst interview stories. The one that still rankles most was in my year as a student union deputy president – actually there were several bad media experiences for me that year, but only one that strictly came out of an interview I gave. It was the time when I had to set the union’s budget for the next year; one of the student journalists decided he would do a hatchet job on me, and grilled me for hours about the finances; I gave clear and honest answers (as I had nothing to hide), and he wrote it up as a complete smear job. What really pissed me off was that the article focussed on my very modest proposed increase of the student union officers’ salaries from their unbelievably low rate; they shot a full reel of pictures of me, picked the one where I was looking most stupid (probably wishing they would go away and stop taking pictures) and printed it with the caption: “Nick Whyte: Laughing all the way to the bank” (when in fact the proposed raise would only have taken effect for my successors). The guy who wrote the story is now, god help us, a political correspondent for a London newspaper. I don’t normally bear grudges, but this was an exception; for what little revenge it’s worth, I tell my English political contacts who move in his orbit that he’s a wanker and not worth bothering with. In fairness, they have usually worked this out already.

My worst interview in my current job was only a few months into it, when an Australian journalist ambushed me in Macedonia with questions about my boss’s past career, and like a fool I answered. For all that my boss drives me mad sometimes, his response to me personally (sent even before I had completed writing my grovelling apology to him) was pretty decent:

Nasty little piece from our good friends in Macedonia and the diaspora. I propose to ignore it and suggest that you and everyone else do likewise.
‘No comment’ is a very useful expression.

My only bad interview moment since was a year or so ago when I thought a Balkan journalist was asking me really stupid questions, and told him so on camera (it wasn’t live, but I understand the exchange was in fact broadcast). I forgave him sufficiently to give him a lift to his next appointment; he insisted on taping another interview with me in the car, and again asked such stupid questions that I almost threw him out halfway there. When I checked out his credentials with other journalist friends from the same country, they expressed incredulity that I’d wasted my time with him, and regret that I hadn’t asked them about him before the interview. So I’ve been refusing to return his emails and phone calls with a clear conscience. (Slightly similar is the case of a blogger who wanted to interview me for his website; since he’d failed to make adequate corrections to an earlier inaccurate piece about me, I declined vigorously.)

God, it felt good to write all that down.

The only way to avoid such situations completely is to not do media interviews. However, it should be noted that in the first two cases here, the problem was that the journalist was actively malicious and determined to do a hatchet job on me or my colleague; and that’s unusual, and there’s no way of preparing for that. I do a dozen or so interviews a month these days, and the fact that I’ve had only two real disasters in the last fifteen years (and one of those a student) speaks pretty well for the journalistic profession.

, , any views from the other side of the fence?

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