The Jack-Jacinda interview was the silliest ever done on TV – believe me

by Bill Ralston / 29 November, 2017

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There were lessons for both interviewer and interviewee in an absurd Breakfast TV encounter.

It was the silliest interview ever done on television and, believe me, I should know because I did some very silly TV interviews back in the day. Clean-cut TVNZ Breakfast co-host Jack Tame had the temerity to cross-examine a grinning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern over whether US President Donald Trump had confused her with Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau’s wife at an international summit. I know, it sounds like the plot of some high-school melodrama.

Still, according to the New Zealand Herald, a paper always keen to put the boot into its TV rivals, there were many complaints about the interview on social media, although, to be fair, social media is always bulging at the seams with outrage over a multitude of issues. I recently saw one Twitter user bitterly protesting that on TV news Labour Cabinet ministers’ comments were then followed by comments from National politicians. How dare they do that?

For her part, Jacinda seemed unfazed by young Jack’s attempt at a grilling. Beaming widely, she repeatedly explained that, although she was unaware of it, someone at the conference gathering thought Trump had mistaken her for Mrs Trudeau and she now regretted telling this story to a comedian backstage at the New Zealand Music Awards. The interview went in ever-decreasing “he said, she said” circles, with Jack and Jacinda sounding like a pair of bickering teenagers.

Of course, the Prime Minister is still on a steep learning curve. Repeating what may have been said in a closed session at a conference of world leaders is not a good idea. Taking the proverbial out of the leader of the free world is definitely a bad move, especially when that person is as barking mad as Trump. Regaling a comedian “mate” with the story backstage at an awards ceremony is certainly a mistake. Spending six minutes of a live TV interview endlessly reprising the mistake is a diplomatic boo-boo.

The tale quickly found its way to the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Independent, the Australian, the BBC, Bangladesh’s Dhaka Tribune and possibly everywhere in between. Thankfully, Trump doesn’t believe anything he reads in the “fake news” media, but if his dumped strategist, Steve Bannon, blogs about it, we should prepare to be nuked.

Jacinda (note how quickly we’ve all become on first-name terms with our Prime Minister) needs to look to her predecessors for lessons in how to shut down a persistent questioner.

Helen Clark, John Key and Bill English all knew how to freeze an interviewer into silence. Tortuously responding to a repeated line of enquiry, all the while adding more juicy gossip to the story, is not how it’s done.

I think most people will agree that Jacinda is “nice”. The only interviewer I can recall her being even slightly rude to was Three’s AM Show co-host Mark Richardson, who questioned the newly appointed Labour leader about her baby plans, but everyone is justifiably rude to him.

I am afraid you cannot be a nice world leader. None of them are. Jacinda needs to take lessons from Winston Peters, who for decades has been superbly, scathingly rude to journalists. If she ever ventures back into the minefield of morning television, she should take Peters’ famous black and white “NO” sign and brandish it at any interviewer impertinent enough to ask her something.

One thing for sure is that Tame’s interview will have boosted TVNZ 1’s Breakfast’s ratings. The only worry is what that will provoke from his AM Show rivals Richardson and offsider Duncan Garner.

Video: 1News

This article was first published in the December 2, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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