How To Respond to Opposition Interview Requests

Jan 18, 2017
Things you should consider when you field a call from a producer asking if you are available for an interview
Over the last six months, multiple spokespeople across all three ReThink Media issue areas have fielded interview requests from “opposition outlets,” from Fox News to AM radio “shock jocks.” These outlets express a very strong position and cater to a very contentious audience. 
In this post, we wanted to share some thoughts you should consider when you field a call from a producer asking if you are available for an interview.
  • Consider your goals. When invited by a producer to participate on a show, consider what you may have to lose or to gain by taking the interview in the first place. Most often, our coalitions work to either influence audiences that have not yet decided how they feel about our issues or to reach audiences that we are aiming to motivate and mobilize. Opposition audiences have almost always already decided how they feel about your issue and are very unlikely to be swayed by your arguments. 

    Sometimes an interview with a fringe or opposition radio or TV show may be helpful – the footage of you being antagonized could be used later in other outlets to add fuel to the debate. Weigh these costs and benefits before saying yes.
  • Some right wing media shows have deliberately targeted individuals with less media experience as a way to force them off-balance once on the air. If you do not have significant media experience with receptive outlets, we strongly suggest declining interviews with hostile ones.
  • Some shows are more antagonistic than others. Review some footage of previous shows on your topic or related issues to determine how the host typically conducts interviews and what kinds of questions you can typically expect.
  • An interview with a talk show notorious for combative language will not be a pleasant experience. You must be prepared for someone to accuse you of culpability for murder, high treason, corruption, or incompetence on live TV and respond in a clear, strong, and accessible way with an understanding that the audience may be too hostile to listen to your main points. Frankly, some broadcast programs are like cage matches. In short, don’t get in the cage unless that’s how you’re willing to roll.
  • If you do decide that the benefits of joining a show outweigh the costs, block off a significant period of time ahead of the interview to draft talking points and, most importantly, run through a mock interview with ReThink Media or a trusted member of your staff. You partner in preparation should be ready to be very aggressive and confrontational with you. Be sure to ask the producer if this will be a one-on-one interview or if you will need to hold your own against a larger panel of like-minded spokespeople. Anticipate which questions you may have to field, including any that you feel particularly uncomfortable answering, and practice your responses. As your partner during the mock interview to ask you questions you have not anticipated, but are designed to back you into a corner.
  • Draft one or two primary points you plan to address during the show, and prepare sample intro language that you can go back to if/when the host tries to steer the conversation in the wrong direction (i.e. “The important thing for Americans to remember, Sean, is…” and “The more important question here is…”). Expect the host to antagonize you or interrupt you to redirect the line of questioning.
  • Do not assume that all Right Wing media outlets or conservative audiences have the same opinions. They don’t. For example, one third of Fox News viewers believe the Trump presidency will be one of the worst in American history. 
  • Let them speak their piece. Sometimes the opposition does themselves the most damage by making ridiculous statements, and exposing their logic (or lack thereof) by doing nothing can be a great strategy.
  • Speak with strength and confidence, but do not fly off the handle. Ensure your talking points are clear and that you are able to state them in 20-30 seconds at the most. Lean forward in your chair during the interview, look forward, and physically convey the conviction of your statements.
  • Do not directly attack the host; they are the start and often the #1 reason the audience is watches or listens to the show. Instead, characterize bad ideas with some room for the host to disassociate themselves. For example: “those who want to divide this country based on religion are doing exactly what ISIS wants them to do.”  
No one can force you onto the air. Even if the producer is pushing for you to appear, you can always decide not to join the program; better to back out before the camera is on than to stumble during the interview.
However, if you decide to join the program, preparation and strategic planning will make a world of difference. If you have any questions or if you receive a phone call from an opposition outlet interested in an interview, please reach out to one of us from ReThink Media for additional support.