Interviewers – please refrain from answering your own questions

While on hiatus, John Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” did a brief skewering of shows like “60 Minutes” where the interviewers have a terrible habit of answering their own questions. Since I like “60 Minutes,” it made it more fun to see interviewer after interviewer feed the answer to the person being interviewed, who would echo the response or just agree. When this form of questioning and fed answering was packaged together where you witness it done twenty times in a row, it is quite humorous.

Yet “60 Minutes” is not alone in this interviewing style. It is more widely used by interviewers on all kinds of shows, be they entertainment, pseudo news or more serious news shows. If there is any thoughtful hesitation by the interview subject, the seconds are filled with the interviewer’s perceived answer to which the subject must react. It becomes less amusing when the interviewer is not interested in the response and is more antagonistic to the subject being interviewed. These tend to occur on the pseudo news networks or with an overbearing host, even if the show is a comedy show.

When I see this occur either in a demonstrative or antagonistic way, I find myself saying “Let him (or her) answer the question.” I enjoy watching Bill Maher’s show “Real Time with Bill Maher” due to the subject matter, comedy and guests, but find he often will talk over someone who does not entirely agree with his view. To his credit, he will have people with opposing views on his show and he tends to be more well-versed than many of his non-expert guests, but when he disagrees (or curtails conversation) with a true subject matter expert, it is often puzzling. But, Maher does a better job than many of the hosts of  talk shows which become a shout fest, where listening to the other person’s view is a challenge.

Much of this gets back to people using their own set of facts to foment their opinion on something. If the subject offers any opinion that creates a dissonance in the interviewer, whether they are anti, neutral or pro the argument, then it is unsettling to the interviewer and audience. It may also be due to the interviewer wanting to show how smart he or she is to validate his or her worth to his viewers and management. I also think the lack of control over the interview scares people, as they don’t want to be shown to be foolish. Some people cannot help themselves in this regard.

Yet, what we are lacking through this interview process, is more people asking “why” questions. Why do you believe that? Why did you change your mind from an earlier stance? Why should we believe you now? That would be scary, but would give us more answers to our many questions. One final comment about talk show hosts – just because you have a talk show does not make you right or right on every opinion you espouse; it just means you have a talk show.

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8 thoughts on “Interviewers – please refrain from answering your own questions

  1. The “why?” question is the most important question that can be asked. Yet the only people who ask it are philosophers. . . . and children! We drum it out of them in our schools, sad to say. Good post, my friend.

  2. Note to Readers: One of the other dilemmas we have with our interviewers, even when on more reputable shows, are the questions that are not asked so as not to offend the companies funding commercials. This has been a lament of our friend Barney who notes that news on the network shows is watered down due to wishing not to offend. This stands even more in the way of those “why” questions, but it goes further than that.

    On “60 Minutes” last Sunday, Scott Pelley interviewed Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, the two leaders of the our Congress. While he did ask some pointed questions, he failed to follow-up on those “why” questions and others being satisfied with the initial questions.

    A few that could have been asked.

    – Why have we failed to invest in our crumbling infrastructure for so long, when this would have created jobs?
    – With Obamacare showing success on multiple fronts and the wishes of the American people to improve it not repeal it, why do you remain so adamant against it, especially when it has some Republican roots?
    – Why have you not embraced the transition to more non-renewable energy when the need is critical and jobs are growing significantly in those industries?
    – Why are you at odds with the US Chamber of Commerce’s desire to open up Cuba and support the immigration changes needed?

    There are many more, but this would have been helpful to me.

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