Being an author or a public figure who showcases his or her opinions through books, television interviews, and public speaking can face many challenges. Interviews can be tricky sometimes unlike speaking in-front of an audience where the stage is yours and you can steer the talk and its sequence however you want, interviews have different dynamics, interviewers have more control through the questions they ask and the ideas and things they want to highlight and unravel through their questions.
I was watching on YouTube Malcolm Gladwell‘s interview on Q&A show aired on the U.S Satellite cable network C-SPAN which took place back in 2009. I noticed how his interviewer, Brian Lamb, focused a lot on the amount of money Gladwell has made from publishing his books and highlighting only the negative reviews he received about his books. I was not very fond of his questions, neither were many of the commenters who watched the interview on YouTube, I think we cared less about how much Gladwell made from his books if anything it proves that writers are able to make money after all from writing. In a paper by John Heritage from UCLA, he explains; Interviewers are expected to be impartial, objective, unbiased, and disinterested in their questioning of public figures. They are expected to have respect for the facts and the perspectives that interviewees (IE) communicate, and to work to bring these into the public domain. On the other hand, Interviewers also subscribe to a norm of adversarialness, when watching Gladwell’s interview it seems the Interviewer took this second notion and neglected the first one.
Focusing on the amount of money Gladwell made affected the amount of information that Gladwell wanted to share after being asked these questions, thus reducing our experience and the knowledge we will get as an audience from this thinker and journalist. Gladwell’s interview with C-SPAN took place nine years ago, but there is a recent and similar interview on BBC Breakfast show where host Charlie Stayte blasted (as was described by many writers who commented on the interview) British politician Chris Grayling with aggressive questions on political issues, this interview took place in December 2017, the audience reacted to this interview attacking Stayte for being too aggressive. This again shows how the interviewer’s aggressive tactics to get answers from their interviewed subjects can backfire and the audience doesn’t always appreciates it.
Through this article I don’t want to analyze Brian Lamb’s question design methods and go into the reasons why he constructed them the way he did, explaining what political and cultural side he stands for, but rather I want to examine Gladwell’s reaction and how he handled his interviewer’s uncomfortable questions. I could see he stayed calm, this can be observed through his voice with occasional small eruptions when he talked about himself, especially when he described himself as a person who enjoys his secluded nature and does not go to writers cocktail parties, or when he said that he does not re-read any of his books (he was talking about his book ‘The Tipping Point’) after they are published, although he had a podcast many years later for the same book, this reaction in my opinion was due to the interviewer’s earlier question about what is the number of books he has sold, it shows the poor research made from the interviewers part, however, Gladwell showed some sort of emotional intelligence which according to E.L Thorndike it refers to the ability to understand and manage people and to act wisely in human relations, Gladwell was able to manage his emotions and control his reaction (perhaps he was not able to manage Lamb though) thus acting wisely in his interaction with his interviewer, he remained composed and calm but he fell short by shutting down a little bit after he felt his interviewer’s hostility, at some parts of the interview I can see how he reduced the intensity of his interviewer and kind of fired back with his reaction when Lamb asked him about the difference between Canadian and American History, Gladwell made a small laugh, a non-verbal expression, to express the absurdity of the question then continued to answer.
Speaking from the point of view of a member of the audience, with the presence of social media and the liberation of content, I find myself more keen to watch interviews that are balanced, ones that add value which at the end of my experience of watching a one hour interview, giving it this amount of time of my day, I want to have the best of what the interviewee has to give, so interviewers should know when not to push their own views and prejudices to the screen.