A brief history of television interviews — and why live TV helps those who lie and want to hide
Posted by admin on 2nd October 2019

First, it happened on Fox News. Chris Wallace asked White House adviser Stephen Miller about the president’s decision to use private lawyers “to get information from the Ukrainian government rather than go through … agencies of his government.”

Miller’s response began, “two different points –” when Wallace cut him off.

“How about answering my question?” Wallace asked. Miller, changing the subject, ignored Wallace.

Wallace’s question was never answered.

Then it happened again.

Jake Tapper hosted Congressman Jim Jordan on his CNN program, “State of the Union.” As the interview closed, Jordan simply started ignoring Tapper’s questions and giving his talking points instead. The interview concluded with a visibly frustrated Tapper signaling disappointment about his guest’s avoidance of simple and direct questions.

Both interviews clarified little. These clashes between recalcitrant guests and flustered hosts created sensational television, but rather than enlighten, as journalism should do, the exchanges muddied the story for uninformed viewers.

Audiences critiqued the behavior of the interviewer and interviewees using viral clips on social media, but little was noted about the troublesome aspects of the format itself.

The live TV interview, with its tightly constricted parameters, has much to do with the journalistic failure that occurred.

What happened in these interviews recurs with such regularity that the failure of this exercise is, by now, entirely predictable.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the journalistic value of live interviews – and return to a standard that reflects what viewers should expect from news programming.

Live interviews once rare

When radio broadcasting emerged in the 1920s, unscripted live interviews were rare. Radio networks and stations carefully policed their airwaves lest something too disagreeable, spontaneous or controversial caused problems with sponsors or the Federal Communications Commission.

As media history and radio studies scholar Jason Loviglio notes, even popular “vox pop” (people-on-the-street interview) shows were often scripted.

During World War II, broadcast interviews were diligently monitored by the Office of Censorship and the Office of War Information. Scripts of interviews with soldiers and home-front citizens alike were often censored, lest a war secret accidentally slip through.