For successful political leaders, public speaking is only half the battle. A good politician must also be a competent performer. Whether facing critical questions in an interview, posturing in a leaders' debate, or conversing on a daytime chat show, success is reliant upon a candidate's ability to dramatically but authentically impart a strong individual identity.
In this innovative analysis, Geoffrey Craig looks at the interrogative exchanges between politicians and journalists. The power struggles and evasions in these encounters often leave the public exasperated, but it is the politicians' negotiation of these struggles that determines success. Drawing on analyses of the language and performances of leaders such as Barack Obama and David Cameron, Craig examines the particular kinds of interactions that occur across political interviews, debates, conferences, and talk shows. The political games that take place between politicians and journalists, he argues, constitute the true theatre of politics.
Engaging and insightful, Performing Politics will appeal to students and scholars of journalism, politics, linguistics, and media studies, as well as anyone concerned about the quality of contemporary political communication.
Geoffrey Craig is Professor of Communication Studies and Head of Research in the School of Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology (AUT)
Preface and Acknowledgements
The public performance of politics is significantly practised through interrogative exchanges in the media. Whether this consists of extended critical questioning in a political interview, prime ministerial posturing in a leaders' debate during the height of an election campaign, or the relaxed, jovial banter in an interview on a daytime chat show, political success is predicated on the ability to perform across a variety of such exchanges. These encounters are a vital means by which politicians promote themselves and are subject to scrutiny. Political leaders must express in a dramatic yet authentic way an individual identity or subjectivity, and their performances are realized by the successful negotiation of the power struggles that occur between the politicians themselves and the journalists they encounter.
This book will highlight broadcast interviews, leaders' debates and press conferences as fundamentally contestable encounters and argue that this 'dialogical' (Bakhtin 1981, 1986) and 'agonistic' (Mouffe 1993, 2000) quality is integral to political subject formation and democratic process. This argument is in contrast to research and public discourse that assesses how the conventions of interaction across types of mediated political interrogative exchanges fail to facilitate ideals of mutual understanding and truth production. In this sense, the book argues that public consternation over the 'games' of contemporary political communication must be reoriented to appreciate how interviews, debates and press conferences represent necessary struggles over the meanings of important public issues. It does not offer a 'solution' to the crisis of political communication: rather, it argues that we should understand that the 'games' that are played in interviews, debates and press conferences are the necessary 'play' of politics. This is not to be blind to the limitations of modern interactions between politicians and journalists or closed to seeking more constructive relations between the two, but it is to argue that we need to develop greater media and political literacy about such interrogative exchanges specifically, and political and media relations more generally.
It has been claimed that we live in an 'interview society' (Atkinson and Silverman 1997) and that the interview is 'the fundamental act' of contemporary journalism (Schudson 1994). Journalism researchers identify the importance of interviews, but such discussion is usually limited to the practice and mechanics of interviewing (Conley and Lamble 2006; Sedorkin 2011). Much existing scholarly research on political interviews, debates and press conferences has been dominated by linguistic studies that have focused at a textual level on the nature of exchanges between the participants (Clayman and Heritage 2002a; Tolson 2006). While these kinds of studies are vital in understanding the communicative effects of interviews, debates and press conferences, we are also concerned with locating such interactions in the contexts of a broader struggle between journalism and politics that can be illuminated with reference to media and political theory.
The first two chapters will outline the theoretical framework of the book. The opening chapter will provide a comprehensive theorization of the mediated and televisual contexts of interviews, debates and press conferences and the importance of individual performance and style in political and journalistic practice, in contrast to political communication research which sees media and public focus on image and performance as a distraction from more substantive political realities. It will begin by outlining the mediated basis of public life and then discuss both how disciplined bodily performance is integral to journalistic and political professionalism and why the reading of bodies is an important feature of the meanings of interviews, debates and press conferences. Bourdieu's concept of habitus will be introduced, and the chapter will conclude by offering a theorization of performance and, specifically, note the centrality of televisual performance to the production of political and journalistic identity.
The second chapter discusses the idea of the 'game' that accounts for the discursive and institutional struggles between journalists and politicians in interrogative encounters. It introduces political interviews, leaders' debates and press conferences as communicative events, briefly accounting for their similar and different features and describing their significance as both face-to-face and highly mediated exchanges. The role of the public in such interactions is also considered. The chapter then explains how the political games that occur in political talk television formats derive from the contestable nature of both language and politics. The dialogical basis of language and the agonistic nature of politics will be outlined, and it will be argued that politics is concerned primarily with persuasion and trust and that the main task of journalists in interviews, debates and press conferences is not to discover the truth but to engage in a constant scrutiny that keeps the political open. Finally, the chapter will set out the methodological approaches that inform the analyses in the book.
The succeeding chapters will offer a textual analysis of a range of interview genres, leaders' debates and press conferences. This will be supplemented with discussion of how such interactions are manifestations of broader struggles between the media and political fields for public authority (Bourdieu 1991, 1998). The textual analysis will be informed by critical discourse analysis theory, and the resulting thick descriptions will reveal how language use expresses the power relations between interview participants and their struggles to represent the nature of their relations with other social actors, including the public. In addition, the bodily performance of both interviewers and interviewees will be analysed.
The book argues that the essential communicative form of interviews, debates and press conferences facilitates the interrogation and the promotion of the interviewee, as well as the promotion of the interviewer. These functions are necessarily fused in these interactive exchanges, but the relationship between interrogation and promotion varies across different formats, initiating different power relations between participants, generating different kinds of knowledge, values and emotions, and establishing various representations of social actors, institutions and public life. Political interviews on current affairs programmes, for example, are characterized by greater degrees of interrogation than interviews in so-called soft media, where the interactions between interviewer and interviewee can function more collaboratively in the construction of personal narratives. In contrast to dyadic interview structures, the dynamics of press conferences usually enable politicians to exert more control over the interactions, and there is usually less sustained and direct interrogation.
The case studies in chapters 3 to 7 draw on interrogative exchanges with high-profile political leaders across the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Chapter 3 offers analyses of political interviews with the UK prime minister David Cameron on The Andrew Marr Show and the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd on Insiders and the 7.30 Report. It prefaces such discussion with a brief overview of the history of political interviews and an examination of the nature of the dialogue of political interviews as well as their public dissemination. Chapter 4 provides analyses of leaders' debates in the 2010 United Kingdom election campaign and the debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 US presidential campaign. It outlines the formats and structures of leaders' debates and considers their functions and effects in election campaigns. Chapter 5 examines press conferences through case studies involving US President Barack Obama, both a solo press conference and a joint press conference between Obama and the former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. It also details the history and dissects the significance of different types of press conferences. Chapter 6 examines current affairs forum television, where politicians appear on a panel of public figures and are questioned by members of the studio audience. The case study involves the high-profile Australian programme Q&A. The chapter first defines the genre of current affairs forum television before examining the roles of the programme host, panelists and audience members. Chapter 7 deals with political celebrity interviews and features an analysis of Barack Obama's performances (including with his wife, Michelle) on the daytime talk television programme The View. It offers a theorization of the concept of political celebrity - in particular the celebrity status of the American president - and the engagement of such individuals with 'non-political' media. A conclusion brings together these analyses of different interrogative exchanges and offers some judgements about the nature of the political games that take place between politicians and journalists, including the production of identity and the power struggles that occur between the journalistic and political fields.
It is important here both to acknowledge the basis of the selection of case studies...