Students of Media Studies should be encouraged to compare and contrast the two main political interviews on this morning's 'Andrew Marr Show'. One was gentle and friendly, the other aggressive. If I tell you that the interviews were with Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson and the Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, can you guess which was which?
The Osborne interview came first. It lasted 12 minutes 43 seconds. The first 4 minutes 24 seconds were spent discussing financial regulation, with the remaining 8 minutes 18 seconds spent discussing Conservative spending plans - ie. cuts. Raising the issue of 'Conservative spending cuts' is the Labour Party's main political strategy at the moment, so I'm sure they would have been delighted that Marr's questioning focused overwhelmingly on that subject.
Marr interrupted George Osborne 17 times in the course of the interview, scoring an I.C. of 1.3.
The Johnsoninterview lasted 13 minutes 10 seconds, of which his new responsibilities at the Home Office - knife crime, anti-social behaviour, and Islamist terrorists - were covered in the first 7 minutes 59 seconds, along with a question on immigration and a related question on the BNP. Mr Johnson's old responsibility, health, was then discussed - specifically swine flu - for a further 2 minutes 34 seconds, with Afghanistan (1 minute 15) and the latest opinion polls (22 seconds) to finish. This was wide ranging - but not wide-ranging enough to spend any time on Labour spending plans - ie. cuts.
Marr interrupted Alan Johnson 7times in the course of the interview, scoring an I.C. of 0.5.
ANOTHER WAY OF LOOKING AT THE SAME THING
I thought I might try out a new approach here, presenting the anatomy of each interview for comparison, so as to try to tease out why one sounded so aggressive and the other so gentle. Alongsideinterruptions(my main tool, and always used only when they stop the interviewee from speaking, or force him to change tack), I will now introduce those common signs of a friendly interview, the 'hmm' of agreement and the supportive echoing of the interviewee's words, and (from the other side of the coin) that great sign of an aggressive interview, the abortive interruption (an interruption that tries but fails to stop the speaker from continuing). Also, I would like to introduce the helpful comment and the unhelpful comment (both are another kind of interruption, but are not designed to stop the interviewee's flow).
Reviewing the two interviews and looking at their tone I was intrigued to see Andrew Marr's body language. I'm not one for TV pop-science baloney about body language, but true science has valuable things to say about it. Not being a scientist, here's a bit of pop-science baloney instead!!
During the Osborne interview (but especially after the conversation turned to public spending) Marr's hands were flying about the studio, jabbing and gesturing at at Osborne, his face smirked and gurned during interruptions and he kept leaning forwards towards his victim.
During the Johnson interview, Marr's body language was much more restrained, at times even meek and subservient.
Watch the programme again on the BBC i-Player (if you aren't worried about your blood-pressure) & see what you think!
AND THERE'S MORE...
Marr's meekness during the Johnson interview is reflected in the qualifications contained in his questions. Here's an example, where critical points are topped and tailed by praise for the Labour government:
"When New-Labour first came in there was plenty of money and there appears to have been plenty of will to tackle anti-social behaviour, to make the streets calmer, quieter, less threatening. ASBOs were brought in & it hasn't really worked...after 10 years of money and 10 years of no-doubt serious politicians".
(What a suck-up!)
That the bias contained in Marr's questioning was pre-meditated is revealed by his exact repetition of "...after 10 years of money and 10 years of no-doubt serious politicians" at the end of his next question!
AND THERE'S EVEN MORE...
Marr's aggression towards George Osborne further betrayed itself in what can only be called 'heckling', and in smirking contempt.
There were lots of interruptions of this kind: "So what can you do about it?", "How do you do that?", "And how do you do that? That's the question." Also "Can you, can you give me..." and "Can you give me any examples at all?"
There were jeers like "Easy to say..!" and sarcasm, as in "That might be the right thing for you to do, but it's not going to save you £20 billion" and "That's what I'm asking about!" Marr's sarcasm reached its zenith with his interruption, "Let's optimistically tick that box and move on!" and with this: "Well, let's move on from talking about telling the public the truth to telling the public the truth!"
Marr's bullying tone is further evidenced in his interruption of Osborne (who was obviously well aware of the way the interview was going - though, typically of the masochistic Tory party, he didn't protest!) when the shadow chancellor said, "Well, we've set out..I know you are going to say you've heard them all before...". Marr pounced on him, "If I've heard them all before let's move on...," (at which Marr gave a derisive snort) "...with respect."
What is wrong with the Conservative Party that they don't protest about the sheer extravagence of bias displayed by Andrew Marr?
They are betraying themselves...and, much more importantly, betraying our democracy.