Conversation, in common terms, refers to the method of communication employed by two or more people when speaking. As part of my course material, I’ve been asked to deconstruct Jeremy Paxman’s famous interview with Micheal Howard about his ‘Overruling‘ of Derek Lewis. The video of which can be found here.

Is the interviewer maintaining a stance of ‘formal neutrality’? Or can we see some form of bias?

From my watching of the 8-minute clip, I believe that Jeremy Paxman was highly invasive, both in his tone of voice and in the language he used when asking Micheal Howard questions. I believe that Paxman was working his way towards the, now legendary, evasion by Howard and lead him into an uncomfortable position. Paxman was actively trying to agitate Mr Howard and elicit the desired response. Before Paxman asks the same question a total of 12 times, he essentially calls Mr Howard a liar which, in my opinion, contributed to the next 90 seconds where Mr Howard was trying to defend himself and his rationale behind the decisions he had made up to this point.

How are the questions being answered by the interviewee? (regarding language being used, is it conversational?)

Mr Howard answers every single question, including the one on Derek Lewis’ overruling, in a very serious and matter-of-fact tone. Howard uses received pronunciation in all of his responses and speaks very formally. This may denote training by his PR team in order to handle Paxman’s notorious style of interviewing. Howard uses no colloquialisms or other forms of social slang in his responses, maintaining an air or formality.

Has the interviewee answered the specific question that has been asked?

Unfortunately for Mr Howard, in the 12 or 13 times that Paxman asked the same question in the span of 90 seconds, he never once answered it fully with a yes or a no answer. Instead, Howard chose to repeat the same response over and over again until Paxman decided to just drop the subject and move on. However, even though Howard never provided an answer to Paxman, he still answered the question.

What approach is the interviewee using, if any, to avoid providing an answer to a specific question?

Howard, who has obviously been trained by PR specialists, continues to evade the question by ignoring the multiple asking of Paxman and continuing on with the ‘I was instructed, I instructed’ response. Technically Howard does answer the question though he continues to try to take the conversation to where he is comfortable, almost going off topic entirely via answering a question that was never even asked.

Is the interviewer allowing this to happen (violation) or are they pushing for an answer to a question?

In my opinion, I believe Paxman was genuinely looking for an answer. Although his interview style may be notorious and his reputation as an interviewer who asks serious questions may seem very daunting, Paxman is merely looking for an answer. I will say however that when Paxman knows Howard won’t give him the answer he is looking for he decides to drop the entire line completely. There is always two sides to every coin and it could be argued that Paxman followed this line of questioning purposefully in order to put Howard in the hot seat, so to speak.

Can we see the use of language within the interview being influenced by the perceived social context of the ‘target audience’?

While Howard uses a very formal tone of voice and speaks clearly with received pronunciation, Paxman uses a very normative speaking manner, which may aim to lower his standing against a member of English Parliament in order to have the viewer associate with Paxman rather than Howard. Paxman ‘lowers’ himself to the level of the common viewer in order to imply a form of ‘us vs him’ bias. It almost feels like Paxman is saying, and excuse the level of informality, “Hey I’m on your level, this guy doesn’t speak like me and you, he’s different and we don’t like different.” Paxman is a skilled journalist with a lengthy career in his profession so there is no doubt in my mind that this was intentional on Paxman’s part.

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