This article provides an overview of the dynamics of
answering and resisting or evading questions in broadcast news
interviews. After a preliminary examination of the practices
through which answers are recognizably constructed, the analysis
turns to the practices through which interviewees manage responses
that resist the agenda of an interviewer's question. When
resisting overtly, interviewees engage in various forms of
“damage control.” When resisting covertly, interviewees
take steps to render the resistance less conspicuous. Both sets
of practices facilitate resistant responses by reducing the
negative consequences that might otherwise follow. Such practices
demonstrate that, although interviewees have developed practices
for resisting questions, the norm of answering remains a salient
feature of the contemporary broadcast news interview.
This article develops a system for analyzing the aggressiveness of journalists' questions to public figures and applies that system to a sample of presidential news conferences from Eisenhower through Clinton. The primary objective is to use the phenomenon of aggressive questioning as a window into the White House press corps and its evolving relationship to the presidency. Ten features of question design are examined as indicators of four basic dimensions of aggressiveness: (1) initiative, (2) directness, (3) assertiveness, and (4) adversarialness. The results reveal significant trends for all dimensions, all indicating a long‐term decline in deference to the president and the rise of a more vigorous and at times adversarial posture. While directness has increased gradually over time and is relatively insensitive to the immediate sociopolitical context, initiative, assertiveness, and adversarialness are more volatile and sensitive to local conditions. The volatile dimensions rose from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, declined from the mid‐1980s through the early 1990s, and rose again at century's end. Possible factors contributing to these trends, and their broader ramifications for the evolving relationship between the news media and the presidency, are also discussed.
In theories of the journalism-state relationship, the watchdog model of journalism competes with other models emphasizing either subservient or oppositional relations. Since actual journalistic practice is circumstantially variable, this study isolates the social conditions associated with aggressive journalism. Data are drawn from presidential news conferences from 1953 to 2000, and the focus is on the aggressiveness of the questions asked therein. Through multivariate models, four sets of explanatory conditions are explored: (1) the administration life cycle, (2) presidential popularity, (3) the state of the economy, and (4) foreign affairs. Results show (1) no evidence of a firstterm honeymoon period, but significantly more aggressive questions during second terms, (2) the president's Gallup job approval rating is not a significant independent predictor of aggressiveness, (3) both the unemployment rate and the prime interest rate are positively associated with aggressiveness, and (4) questions about foreign affairs are significantly less aggressive than questions about domestic affairs, and this differential has been stable for at least a half-century. We conclude by discussing the theoretical implications of these findings, which show that journalists modulate their conduct in complex ways that do not readily map onto any single model.
This paper develops a new system for analyzing the questions that journalists ask public figures in broadcast news interviews and press conferences. This system is then applied in a comparative study of the forms of questioning that characterized the press conferences of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. The comparison focuses on the phenomenon of adversarialness in question design. Ten features of question design are examined that serve as indicators of 4 basic dimensions of adversarialness: (a) initiative, (b) directness, (c) assertiveness, and (d) hostility.The results reveal substantial and significant differences for all indicators, all in the direction of increased adversarialness. This pattern suggests that journalists have become much less deferential and more aggressive in their treatment of the U.S. president. Possible factors contributing to this development, and its broader ramifications for the evolving relationship between journalism and government, are also discussed.
Public service is both an ideal that journalists aspire to, and a resource that they invoke strategically to maintain the legitimacy of their more aggressive conduct. Using a database of transcripts from broadcast news interviews in the USA, this article examines the circumstances under which journalist-interviewers present themselves as asking questions on behalf of the general public. Journalists deploy the practice selectively, most notably when engaged in aggressively probing or adversarial lines of questioning. This is because aligning with the public neutralizes and legitimates a question, and thereby increases the pressure on the interviewee to be forthcoming in response. This practice tends to be effective in inducing public figures to acquiesce to aggressive forms of questioning. Moreover, recurrent use of this practice affects the public image of journalism itself, giving it a distinctly populist cast.
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