Hillary Clinton’s greatly dissected interview with NPR’s Terry Gross “Hillary Clinton: The Fresh Air Interview,” provides a great example on how to spot leading statements and false implications within an interview.
It also shows us how to correct/confront a combative interviewer and what it looks like to remain in control of the message.
I’ve written on this subject before (See: Richard Sherman Wins the Interview) and will definitely be adding Hillary’s NPR ‘throw-down’ to my ‘how to control the message’ examples.
- “WASHINGTON — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got into a testy exchange with NPR’s Terry Gross on Thursday, as Gross tried to get Clinton to explain her views on marriage equality over time. Gross attempted to get the former secretary of state to explain whether she had changed her mind over time on the issue of marriage equality or whether she supported marriage equality previously but felt she couldn’t say so due to the popular and political opposition.”
Why exactly do I say Hillary “won” the interview when I know so many of my colleagues in communications will disagree?
It’s simple, support for marriage equality is now a must for Democratic candidates, an absolute must. No doubt, someone else is also going to run for President and try to out-flank Hillary the way Obama did on the Iraq war.
Can’t we all picture Vice-President Biden at some point saying, ” I was for marriage equality before the President was” ?
Put another way, the subject here is so important to Hillary’s left political flank – vital – that if she had to tolerate what is perceived by the media as a ‘misstep’ or an awkward interview than so be it.
More important than the reactions to this slightly awkward interview itself will be the reactions to the message Hillary ultimately delivered – her thoughts on the question of marriage equality and, most importantly, her journey to those thoughts.
That is not an easy message to convey, but it is entirely necessary for someone ostensibly seeking the Presidency. She had to explain her thinking on this subject even if it’s not neat and tidy. And frankly, that’s okay because the fact is nothing about the subject of marriage equality/human rights has ever been neat and tidy. As a matter of course, human rights is perhaps the most untidy aspect of human existence.
Now before I identify exactly what Hillary did with regards to technique and best practices, we are going to squeeze another lesson out of this memorable exchange.
When you hear any of the phrases that follow you be prepared to state your message and defend it. Be prepared to stand your ground. Think of these phrases as red flags because they are indicators that your interviewer will not be content with your answer – whatever it may be – because he/she has the ‘real answer.’
Verbatim Terry Gross began her 10 ‘questions’ to Hillary on the question of marriage equality with:
- “Correct me if…”
- “So just to clarify…”
- “So just one more question on this…”
- “So are you saying…”
- “No, I understand…”
- “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question…”
- “So you are saying…”
- “So that’s one for you changed your mind….”
- “I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand…”
- “I just want to clarify what I was saying…
Are any of those phrases the beginning of a question? There’s not a single “who, what, where, when, why or how” to be found.
Listen to the interview again if you must, but these 10 phrases are anything but questions. They are each the first stanza of a loaded question(s) at best, and more likely an outright statement of opinion that will hang in the air if not refuted, be attributed if not debunked, and saddle listeners with untrue implications if not addressed.
Here’s the sad truth behind each one of those phrases:
- “Correct me if I’m wrong…” – Yes, you are wrong and yes I now have to correct you.
- “So just to clarify…” – You mean now I need to clarify what you just said.
- “So just one more question on this…” – You really mean 7 more questions on this don’t you.
- “So are you saying…” – No, actually that is what you are saying, I’m saying nothing of the sort.
- “No, I understand…” – No, you really don’t.
- “I’m pretty sure you didn’t answer my question…” – That’s because you didn’t ask a question, you made a series of leading statements.
- “So you are saying…” – Repeat step 4.
- “So that’s one for you changed your mind….” – Regrettably no, it’s one for I still haven’t changed your mind.
- “I’m just trying to clarify so I can understand…” – Oh so we are back to step 2, are we?
- “You know I’m just saying, I’m sorry…” – Finally! Yes you are ‘just sayin’ and no you really aren’t sorry, but I accept.
It was finally on fake question # 9 where Hillary jumped in with this game-winner,
“So let me just state what I feel like I think you are implying and repudiate it.”
And there it is folks. Your lesson for the day on how to ‘win’ an interview. In bullet form for the quick takeaway:
- Identify false implications and correct them,
- Never relent, you’re interviewer won’t,
- Remain calm, but firm (Hilary’s voice doesn’t change in pitch), and
- Finally, if you must lay it bare (State the implied falsehood plainly and refute it – clear the air).
P.S. Interview techniques, tips and best practices aside, the other reason, (read the political reason) Hillary ‘won’ the interview can be found in her closing statement which provides sufficient historical context to flesh out the absurdity of Terry Gross’s line of questioning
“I did not grow up even imagining gay marriage. This was an incredibly new and important idea that people on the front lines began to talk about and slowly but surely convinced others of the rightness of that position and when I was ready to say what I said…I said it.”
That’s right Hillary you didn’t grow up imagining this would ever be a question of civil and human rights. Neither did Terry. Neither an overwhelming majority of the American population. And for Terry to argue that in the 90’s Hillary should have been ‘for marriage equality’ is equally as ludicrous. It wasn’t until 97′ that Ellen came out in the last episode of her sitcom, and for years after that an oddly named group “One Million Moms” was still trying to get Ellen fired from J.C. Penny commercials.
To sum up, Terry Gross is attempting to fault a candidate/interviewee for not publicly having said something at the exact right time – a window of time by the way that will account for one-hundredth of a nano-second of the overall time allotted for the struggle for human rights. Folks this is a struggle that predates Moses’ parting of the Red Sea and a struggle that to this day remains very much so in the unfolding and up-the-hill phase of battle.
So what someone preparing for an interview can take from this last point is that Hillary kept the big picture in focus. She didn’t get trapped in the fatal ‘timeline construct’ so often used in political questioning (Variations on the ‘what did you know and when did you know it”), instead she opened it up to the larger question. Or , in Hillary’s own words, “
“When I was ready to say what I said, I said it.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.