How to handle an interviewer’s mistake

It’s fine to correct an inaccuracy, but do so in a way that doesn’t make you look embittered or on edge.

Like everybody else, journalists can make mistakes.

The importance of accuracy is drilled into us journalists from our very first day in the newsroom, but we are still human.

For example, a TV or radio reporter might make a mistake in conducting an interview. A question might be based on incorrect facts or a misunderstanding of the information or background.

How interviewees react at such a moment can be a telling indication of their state of mind or the pressure they feel both inside and outside the studio. This is particularity the case if the spokesperson and his or her organization are under fire or investigation.

The important thing to realize is why an interviewer might make a mistake, why a question might be inaccurate. Nine times out of 10 the reporter is blameless.

News is a fast-moving business. The host of a three-hour breakfast news program might conduct 30 interviews per morning.

The result of this is that their preparation for an interview might not be “in depth.” It might be a brief skimming of a press release, a couple of newspaper articles, or a short briefing paper put together by an overnight producer.

In such circumstances it’s unwise for the interviewee to react in a hostile manner to an error in an interviewer’s question.

Phrases such as, “Once again you’ve got your facts wrong…” or, “If I could just correct the blatant inaccuracies you are airing…” rarely work in the interviewee’s favour. It makes him or her look ill at ease. The viewer thinks: “Gee, if one simple mistake by the interviewer brings on that reaction, this guy’s really feeling the heat.”

In such circumstances, therefore, it’s best to correct an interviewer in an understated way. You might even adopt a humorous or light-hearted manner rather than assuming than a hostile stance.

A phrase such as, “Just a quick correction to what you’ve just said…” or, “Could I just correct one thing in your in your question…” is the best language to use at such a moment.

Graham Leach is a former journalist and co-founder of the U.K.-based HarveyLeach media training.

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Topics: PR

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