LINGUIST List 14.68

Thu Jan 9 2003

Review: Pragmatics: Clayman and Heritage (2002)

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  1. Anne Violin-Wigent, Clayman and Heritage (2002), The News Interview

Message 1: Clayman and Heritage (2002), The News Interview

Date: Wed, 08 Jan 2003 17:38:40 +0000
From: Anne Violin-Wigent <>
Subject: Clayman and Heritage (2002), The News Interview

Clayman, Steven, and John Heritage (2002) The News Interview:
Journalists and Public Figures on the Air. Cambridge University Press,
hardback ISBN 0-521-81259-3, x+372pp.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Anne Violin-Wigent, Michigan State University

The primary goal of this book is ''to examine the inner workings of
the news interview in Anglo-American society'' (page 7). To achieve
this goal, the authors contrast the rules of conversation with what
happens during news interviews. This allows them to draw a framework
for the analysis of news interviews as well as to underline the
specificities of news interviews. Such elements are always
illustrated by example coming both from Britain and from the United

The book begins with a brief history of news interviews in Britain and
in the United States. This first section shows that in spite of
different developments due, in part, to differing laws about
broadcasting in these two countries, the development of news
interviews and their current state is remarkably similar.
After this, the analysis of the specific phases of the news interview
begins, first with openings and closings (chapter 3). Comparing these
two elements in conversations and in news interviews, the authors
underline how they differ. For example, news interviews typically do
not include greetings and closing statements are generally ''thanks''
rather that ''good-byes''. Another element is the way interviewee are
introduced: interviewers normally mention in what respect they are
relevant to the interview. Unlike in conversations, questions in news
interview also tend to include a preface before the question itself
(the role of the preface is analyzed here as well as in subsequent

Chapter 4 describes turn-taking in news interviews, in other words,
how does an interviewee knows that he/she has been asked a question
and that he/she should answer? How does an interviewer knows that the
answer is complete? In this perspective, the authors describe various
styles of questioning that go beyond the straight forward syntactic
manipulation. They also explain various ways for the interviewers to
determine that an answer to a question is complete and that they can
ask another question. This chapter also includes a very important
element of interviews, the importance for journalists of maintaining
neutrality and impartiality. This is followed by a description of
departures from these two elements as well as of cases when the
interviewee puts aside his/her role as a respondent to become an
attacker against the interviewer.

In this respect, chapter 4, by describing turn-taking, lays the
foundation for the following three chapters which focus on questions
and answers: defensible questioning (chapter 5), adversarial
questioning (chapter 6), and answers and evasions (chapter 7).
Chapter 5 examines various techniques involved in the maintenance of
interviewer neutralism. Such techniques include, for example,
speaking on behalf of a third party (either an expert or public
opinion) which gives the interviewer legitimacy and credibility for
asking questions that could appear to violate the rule of neutrality,
or playing the devil's advocate. The authors explain how this line of
defensible questioning does not in fact threaten neutrality as the
journalist poses as the voice of others' opinions, and not his/her

Chapter 6 pushes this line of questioning further as it analyzes
adversarial questioning during which interviewers seem to shift away
from impartiality and seem to exert pressure on their respondents.
The authors analyze how interviewers manipulate questions to set an
agenda or lead the interviewee toward a preferred response. Such
manipulation include, among others, the use of a preface before the
question, negative questions (haven't you), the inclusion of negative
polarity items (any) in questions, or tags at the end of what looks
like a statement. All these elements create a preferred answer for
the question, and, therefore, can be seen as a way for the interviewer
to guide or tilt the answer. This chapter ends with extreme cases of
adversarial questioning: hostile and accusatory questioning, during
which the interviewer steps outside the boundaries of neutrality. As a
conclusion, the authors state that ''news interview questioning cannot
be neutral but only neutralistic'' (page 235).

Chapter 7 deals with possible reactions to the lines of questioning
described in the preceding chapters: answers and evasions. After
describing the cost for the interviewee of trying to avoid answering a
question, the authors give different trajectories that are used to
evade a question, such as answering around the question (round-about
trajectory), providing a minimal answer to the question (such as yes
or no) with or without elaborating on another aspect of it, etc. For
the interviewee, these techniques are used to shift the agenda or
reset it to a topic that they prefer. Interviewees sometimes overtly
ask permission to do this or try to justify such a move. Sometimes,
however, this process remains covert, though obvious for the
interviewer and, most of the time, the audience. This chapter
concludes with two cases studies (one with Dan Quayle and one with
Bill Clinton) which illustrate all the points made throughout the
chapter as well as previous ones.

Chapter 8 focuses on panel interviews, which are a little bit
different from news interviews but which supplement the analysis
undertaken by the authors. Whereas the news interview tries to remain
neutral, the panel interview invites and promotes disagreement, and
can even escalate into confrontation. This chapter analyzes the
various levels of disagreement that can be found in this situation and
also the ways that interviewers have to channel and control the
situation, especially to return to neutrality at the end of the
interview. As in the previous chapter, this chapter concludes with a
case study which exemplifies the case of a biased journalist in a
panel interview. This example includes linguistic elements discussed
as well as a note on body language and facial expressions that
complements the analysis.

The general conclusion of the book underlines the main points. The
authors also explain that the practices that they describe are
''shaped by the basic institutional conditions of broadcast journalism
in Western democracies'' (page 337) and that differences exist between
program types, not between countries. This gives their framework some
legitimacy and universality. They end the book by giving directions
for future research.

This book is a very interesting look at the behind-the- scene, if not
behind-the-mind, aspects of news interviews. It is extremely
well-constructed and developed, which allows the naive reader to fully
follow the arguments and descriptions. This is done in part through
the constant comparison between conversations and news interviews.
This comparison makes the specificities of the news interviews more
explicit for the reader. At the same time, numerous examples are
given for every single point made. These illustrations come after a
preliminary explanation but are also followed by a more detailed
explanation, allowing the reader to fully grasp what the authors are
describing. Another very good element about the examples is the fact
that they come both from Britain and the United States, allowing for
easy reading for a reader in or familiar with one of these two
countries. This also lends power to the idea that the framework
described here is not country-specific. Finally, examples range over
a period of 40 years, from the early 1950's to the late 1990's,
showing both the historical evolution of the news interview and its
current state.
The scope of this book and work involved in it is already very
important, but I wish the authors had used examples from non-English
speaking Western democracies. Since they claim that the practices
they describe are characteristic of this area, it would have been
interesting to have examples from other countries. I hope that
someone takes up this venue for future research to see whether the
practices are the same in, say, Italy, but also whether they are
different in Japan, for instance. This comment, however, does not
take away from the quality and thoroughness of the book. 


Anne Violin-Wigent received her Ph.D. in French from Purdue University
in 2001 and is currently an Assistant Professor of French in the
department of Romance and Classical Languages at Michigan State
University. Her primary research interest is in French linguistics,
especially sociolinguistics and dialectology. She also has an
interest in language in the media, especially language manipulation
for political or economic reasons.
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