Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2003 10:36:20 -0500 From: Anne Violin-Wigent Subject: Pragmatics: Review of 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.
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 States.
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 chapters).
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 own.
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.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.