In an interview with Kellyanne Conway today, Jake Tapper sparred with one of Donald Trump’s key advisers for 25 minutes over the administration’s strained relationship with the media and the facts. The full interview is a clinic for journalists on how to respond to government officials, bureaucrats and PR professionals who try to spin their way around the issues or the questions being asked. The full video is below, followed by a few take-aways that can help journalists at all levels deal with difficult sources.
3 Tips and takeaways for dealing with difficult sources:
- Let them give their spin, but bring it back to the issues. Tapper does this masterfully in this interview. Conway is given an opportunity to say her piece, but Tapper doesn’t let her off the hook.
- Call the source on known lies. Often, we may not know a source is lying until after the interview, but if a source lies during the interview and you know it, call them on it. Or, in this case call the spokesperson on the lie from the entity or organization they represent. Tapper doesn’t let go of the murder rate question, and Conway isn’t able to defend it.
- Re-focus the conversation on factual information. All of that spin can take the journalist and the audience on a wild and unpredictable ride. It is easy to get caught up in a daisy-chain of follow-up questions while still leaving a big issue on the table. Notice in this interview that Tapper isn’t having it. Conway talks about what Trump meant, Tapper re-focuses on what Trump said and the pattern of rhetoric the administration has toward the press.