Art of the interview

May 17, 2018

The art of the political interview: the interrogators reveal their hand

How do you break down obstinate stonewalling? How do you catch an evasive pollie? Find out, in part one of our brand-new mini-series.

Charlie Lewis — Journalist

Charlie Lewis


This is the first in a multi-part mini-series on the art of the political interview. The entire series will be collected here.

On April 22 this year, Financial Services Minister Kelly O'Dwyer sat down with Barrie Cassidy on ABC's Insiders. After years of damning reports about banking practices and calls from both their left and right, her government had bowed and established a royal commission. It was roughly a week into the second round of public hearings, which were revealing scandals that shocked even seasoned financial journalists. What Cassidy wanted -- as, one would assume, did a sizeable portion of his audience -- was the admission that the government should have, at the very least, put the commission in place earlier.

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11 thoughts on “The art of the political interview: the interrogators reveal their hand

  1. MJM

    “errant disbelief” ?? Nothing errant about it.
    arrant |ˈarənt|
    adjective [ attrib. ] dated
    complete, utter: what arrant nonsense!

    Yep that’s it.

  2. gumshoe

    I do not think the ‘art’ of political interviewing is dying. I think, though, that the education of politicians by media consultants has made it increasingly difficult for interviewers to conduct one. Those in ‘listener/viewer land’ still crave to hear politicians being held to account but it has become–in the minds of the political class–thoroughly inexpedient to coherently explain themselves. This is because they fear the inevitable attack from the other side. Politicians nowadays are fearful people and are–almost without exception–utterly incapable of articulating a COGENT response to scaremongering from their political adversaries. So captive are they to the ‘other side’, they no longer speak to or for the citizens. Batting for their team is more vital than representing the constituency.

  3. graybul

    “Do you think the art of the political interview is dying?” Possibly. But I do think the number of interviewers available; who have access to a regional, state or national platform, free to exercise their art . . . are all but extinct. Being an incisive, experienced interviewer is but one cog of the wheel. That is why an independent ABC is ESSENTIAL to both parliamentary and civil health of our nation. And we are losing both . . .

    1. Nola Randall-Mohk


  4. Robert Smith

    The interviewers could do better in following up when the politician gives the standard talking points in response to a question.
    Try to get them to expand on their stock response.
    For instance if the Minister says we are on track to achieve our commitments on climate change, the next question could be – so how much have our emissions reduced in the last year? Instead they too often have a follow up question which allows the politician to repeat the talking points.

  5. peter

    There’s always the risk of making ones assessments through partisan eyes: interviewers are never tough enough on the politicians one disagrees with and just rude and aggressive to representatives from ones own side of the aisle. Nevertheless, I’m not sure the “gotcha” style you describe merely applies to Rookie interviewers. The ABC 7.30 host has been around some time now and still seems wedded to this technique (a bi-partisan offender in my view) and regrettably not a patch on former hosts of a program that had previously been an evening fixture for me; I only ever watch nowadays if there’s a guest host.

  6. [email protected]

    I think most politicians know the interviewer will only ask the same question three times without getting a real answer before moving on because the audience gets bored. They also know the interviewer has a very tight time frame so all they need to do is take up as much time as they can by either stalling or repeating their same three talking points until the time’s up. Most interviews are a waste of time. The interviewer knows it, the politician knows it & the audience knows it. It’s seen by all as a cheap form of entertainment with the politicians keeping their profiles as high as possible in the knowledge that politics is Hollywood for unattractive people.

  7. Woopwoop

    I’m very interested in politics, admire Barrie Cassidy, yet I fast forward through his (and others’) interviews. As others remark, politicians have been schooled to only regurgitate talking points ad nauseam. It’s a game of cat and mouse – the interviewer after the “gotcha”, the politician trying to avoid it. Fun for the players, perhaps, frustrating for the rest of us.

  8. AR

    I have no patience with either half of the political class – the interviewers are as complicit in deceit as the pollie, both against the pubic.
    If the journo. asked real questions and tolerated no shit, they would not last.
    Both sides have become too comfortable in the warm ambience.
    Seriously, why would any sane or semi sentient creature listen to Mr Shouty Morriscum or the Limp Waffle Lord Trumble?
    Life is too short.

    1. AR

      … or even against the public.
      On third thoughts…

  9. Notahorse

    Fascinating topic – great idea for an article. Well done crickey. Some very interesting comments so far.

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