Days ago, I wrote an article about do’s and do not’s for media interviews, from Crisis Communications A Casebook Approach written by Fern Banks. Today, I’m going to write trick questions that journalists use to obtain more spicy information.
- speculative questions begin with if – “If an earthquake had happened during business hours, how many people would have been killed or injured? “
- leading questions imply that the reporter already has the answer – “You do agree that the company could have avoided this tragedy, right ?”
- loaded questions are designed to elicit an emotional response – “Isn’t it true that you knew there was asbestos in the ceiling and failed to do anything about it ?”
- naive questions indicate that the reporter had not done any homework and does not know what to ask – “Tell me, what does your company do ?”
- false questions intentionally contain inaccurate details in them – “You fired half of over-50 staff, right ?” where the public relations professional, knowing the statistic is wrong, could counter with “No, only 40%”, not realizing the reporter was aiming for that information all along.
- know-it-all questions begin with “We have the story. I just need a few wrap-up facts.” The reporter may want you to merely confirm an already formed viewpoint.
- silence is used by reporters who want you to spill your guts, to talk on and on.
- accusatory questions are designed to force you to blame others
- multiple-part questions can be confusing to you as well as to the public. Ask which part you should ask first, then answer each part as separate question.
- jargonistic questions are those in which technical words or professional jargon are used.
- chummy questions are those in which the reporter, pretending to be your buddy, may ask – “Say, pal, off the record, what do you think … ?”
- labeling questions aim to make issues negative or simplistic by seeming to ask for clarity – “Would you call the company’s work schedule stressful ?”
- good-bye questions are posed at the end of an interview and may even come after the camera or tape recorder is turned off – “By the way …”
If you want to discover what these trick questions can do, I highly recommend you to watch All the President’s Men , where two journalists Woodward and Bernstein uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that leads to President Nixon’s resignation.