Bob Woodward spilled the beans on a favorite journalistic trick.
Appearing on CBS TV’s “Face the Nation” Sunday he mentioned a media technique that we warn our clients about: Silence.
Here is what he said:
BOB WOODWARD: ….I mean you’re talking about silence and the power of silence. In the CIA, they often talk about let the silence suck out the truth. And you know as a journalist if you just sit there sometimes and let there become silence, people will fill it up with answers and many ways you get some of your best answers in that silence.
Both print and broadcast journalists use this technique. After an interviewee has given an answer to a question — instead of asking another question or reacting to what has been said — journalists will often just stare at the person being questioned. The natural, human response is to think that your answer was somehow inadequate or not understood. Many interviewees then “feed the microphone” by gushing out a more expansive attempt to answer the question.
Our advice: Give the answer you want to give and then stop. If the interviewer stares at you — stare back. Smile…but don’t add anything else. Hopefully you thought out your answers in advance (that is certainly what we teach you to do). Once you have given your answer — don’t try to improve it. Clam up and wait for the next question.
Another reporter technique we warn against is the fact that the interview is never over until the reporter (and all his or her assistants) have left the room and taken their gear with them. Just because a reporter closes his notebook or tells a producer –that’s it — doesn’t mean you are off the hook. Keep that duct tape firmly in place until you see the taillights disappear over the horizon.