Could You Survive an Interview on “Newsnight?”

By: Zoe Samuel

Could You Survive an Interview on “Newsnight?”
Image: BBC

About This Quiz

Five nights a week, Britain turns to the most trusted news programme for the facts. "Newsnight" is about the same age as MTV, but it's hard to imagine a media landscape without it. Unlike other news programmes, "Newsnight" specialises in investigative magazine segments, deep dives that pull no punches as they provide audiences with the unadulterated facts, even if they may be heartbreaking. With such a talented investigative team at its disposal, it should be no surprise that "Newsnight" interviewers go into their interviews better prepared than almost any journalists. Politicians, businessmen and cultural figures have gone on "Newsnight" only to be eviscerated by an interviewer who has done their homework and gives no quarter.

A successful visit to the "Newsnight" studio must involve several factors, not all of them under one's control. First, the interview subject must know what they are getting into. Second, they must not have any skeletons in their closet the interviewer might bring out during the interview. Third, they must be prepared for the worst, both with a strategy and with responses to pointed questions. Finally, they must be able to keep their cool, because nothing turns a soundbite into a meme like an interviewee having an on-camera meltdown. Do you think you could survive a grilling on "Newsnight"?

1 - newsworthy One must be newsworthy. For what reason would "Newsnight" have you on?
I'm a minor figure in the government who has been tied to the post as a sacrificial lamb.
I'm coming out with an amazing film for which I will win a BAFTA at the very least.
I'm the leader of a political party.
I'm a businessperson who has been thrust into the public spotlight by circumstances beyond my control.

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2 - decision maker What kind of decision maker are you? Where are you in the hierarchy?
Right near the bottom. Under the interns.
I make loads of decisions, but they have a small effect.
I am responsible for decisions that affect many people.
I make decisions with significant consequences, but for some reason, I'm given a wide berth in terms of how I am judged for it.

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3 - Emily Maitlis If host Emily Maitlis turned to you with a question that would mean angering someone with power over you, how would you respond?
I would appear to try to answer it, but give the impression that I'm just a silly person who doesn't understand well enough to answer.
I go straight into it with a moral justification and stand firm.
Deflect! Deflect!
Spin it into the question I wish I'd been asked, which is always easy for me to do.

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4 - extreme stress How does your body respond to extreme stress?
My throat gets dry.
I thrive under stress. My heart rate doesn't even go up.
I sweat profusely.
I raise my voice.

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5 - a "tell" when they lie Some people really do have a "tell" when they lie. What's yours?
I play with my hair.
I smile and lean in.
I say things like "it's the best," "the biggest," "I promise," etc.
I straighten up.

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6 - point in the show interviewed Assuming you could influence it, at what point in the show would you want to be interviewed?
The first block. Get in early and get out early to start spinning.
In the second from last block of the show.
Right in the middle, so there's something before and after to distract people.
Right at the end, so most people will have tuned out by then.

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7 - publicly known As it concerns things aside from your reason to appear on "Newsnight," how much about you is publicly known?
Just my basic biographical data
Only what my publicist puts out
Everything except for my deep dark secret ... I hope.
Nothing but my name and most people even get the spelling wrong.

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8 - photographic evidence Is there photographic evidence of your wrongdoing?
As I said before, I am proud to be working hard for my constituency.
Yes, but I'm afraid that if you saw my last appearance on a chat show, you've already seen me dressed as a hot dog.
What? I thought I'd destroyed the negatives!
I don't know what you're talking about. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to smash my phone.

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9 - times of events When pressed, can you remember the times of events that involve you, but happened to people other than you?
I remember nothing! I'm the worst at that!
I have a very good memory for those facts.
I only remember those things when convenient.
I only remember those things when inconvenient.

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10 - wake up in the morning Do you ever wake up in the morning and wonder "Oh, God. What am I going to be told today?"
Every morning ...
Only when I'm up for a new contract
Quite the opposite. I wonder what I will tell others.
Only when I've not had my coffee

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11 - incompetent Do you ever think you're incompetent?
As I said before, I'm proud to be doing what I am doing and I hope to keep doing it as long as someone needs it done.
Ha! That's an adorable question.
I am not incompetent! I am very competent! I am totally competent!
Every time I drop my children off, on the school run. They grow up so fast.

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12 - carefully phrase something How do you react when called on how you chose to carefully phrase something?
I get defensive.
I blame my handlers, smile and make a joke.
I just keep repeating what I said before. No one is getting a sound bite out of me!
I explain the technical reasons which are beyond those such as simple interviewers.

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13 - strong ethical stance Are you prepared to take a strong ethical stance in front of the public?
What is an "ethical" stance? Is that anything like a karate stance?
Yes, as it's the right thing to do.
I will do it if the public is going to love me for it, even if I do not believe it.
I do take a strong ethical stance, though it's my own, perverse moral compass at work.

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14 - on message when rattled Can you stay on message when rattled?
M-m-m-massage? That sounds nice, right — oh no! Message! I must stay on message!
Once I know the script, I stick to it like glue.
Usually
Like one of the fine machines made by our illustrious corporation

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15 - figures at your disposal Let us assume you need to have a lot of figures at your disposal for your "Newsnight" appearance. Are you capable of holding them in your head while metaphorically under fire?
I'm terrible with numbers.
I have a decent memory for numbers, yes.
I don't bother with them because none of them are good for me.
Yes, I remember numbers better than anything.

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16 - tone of your voice What happens to the tone of your voice when you become agitated?
It breaks up from coughing.
I sometimes catch myself putting on the regional accent of the person with whom I'm speaking.
I raise my voice as though I'm talking to a Very Naughty Dog!
Nothing. I am robotic under stress.

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17 - lied in any public statement Have you ever lied in any public statement?
Not that I am aware of, though I would like to get back to talking about the reason I'm here in the first place.
Of course I have! Nothing serious though, of course.
I gave a full account of the dismissal of Derek Lewis to the House of Commons select committee and to the House of Commons itself in a debate that took place!
No, as I am not in the business of making public statements.

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18 - commit to statements How much do you commit to statements that are less than in keeping with the truth?
Completely, if they come from my boss
If you lie, you have to commit to it.
I am, above all, not economical with the truth.
I commit to all statements. Any untruth is no fault of mine, but of those who informed me.

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19 - personal quotes Are you capable of anticipating the personal quotes that an interviewer is likely to fire back at you for confirmation?
What? They might do that?
No, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?
Of course. I know what they will say. They certainly won't have read that interview I gave in 1996 ...
I have people for that.

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20 - negative question What would you do if asked a patently negative question that could make your cause look bad?
I repeat the last thing I said, like a robot in a human suit.
I find a way to use verbal Aikido to turn that question into a positive one.
I accuse the interviewer of bias.
I just fill the air with whatever I want to say, ignoring the question.

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21 - steer from a question How would you steer from a question you don't like to the question you wish you were asked?
I would say "If what you're asking is 'XYZ' then the answer is ..."
I give a half answer, and then, as if lost in thought, derail and meander into the topic that interests me.
I correct the interviewer about what question they should have asked me, ask it, and answer it.
I just plough ahead with the answer I wished I could give.

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22 - like best about you What do new acquaintances say they like best about you?
I'm very organized.
I'm very warm and kind.
I'm charming.
I'm very tidy.

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23 - evidence of you having broken the law How likely is it a professional research team would find evidence of you having broken the law?
Totally unlikely. I am as clean as a whistle.
They will likely find out about the shenanigans I got up to in university.
Let me have a word with my legal representation ...
They won't find anything. I've thoroughly covered up my past.

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24 - threaten to overrule Did you threaten to overrule him?
What? I've no right to overrule anyone!
You're right I threatened to overrule him! I ordered the code red!
I simply informed him of my opinion.
I don't even know him.

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25 - caught in a lie What would you do if caught in a lie?
Stammer
Own up to it in a fun way!
Double down. Triple down. Quadruple down!
I would blame the source that I allege to have given me the false information.

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26 - find unappealing about you What might a stranger find unappealing about you, upon first meeting you?
I come across as a bit stilted sometimes.
I'm so smooth, some people deem it an act.
I don't just socialise with others, I devour them.
I am completely out of touch with the lives of normal people.

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27 - so direct it feels impolite How would you deal with a question so direct it feels impolite?
I would go into attack mode, and try to turn the question back on the questioner.
I would try to answer in a self-effacing sort of way.
I would refuse to answer it on the grounds that it is the unfair, biased question of a corrupt purveyor of fake news!
I'd make my answer as boring and convoluted as possible.

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28 - moral high ground Sometimes the only framing that can get you out of trouble is the moral frame. How easily would you be able to take the moral high ground, under sensitive questioning?
I'm not clever enough to just turn practical matters into moral ones!
In my trade, morality is something one wrestles with every day. I could do it, easily.
Well, I could try to, but my reputation as a louche blackguard is too well established.
I would simply claim that my position was moral on the grounds that I had my ethics team look into it.

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29 - own a mistake When is it best to own a mistake?
Publicly? When it obviously belongs to your superior, who will reward you for your sacrifice.
Always
Never!
When there is money in it

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30 - threaten to overrule But did you threaten to overrule him?
I did not threaten to overrule him!
As I said all along, I did that, and I'm proud of it.
You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Who's going to do it? You, Lieutenant Weinberg?
I think the real question is how we came to this pass in the first place!

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