Geoff Craig on political interviews

I’ve moved a fair bit in the last few years. One of the upsides is finding out about what new colleagues are into, research-wise, and UC’s been no execption here. I got an invitation to a seminar on Monday that I’m really looking forward to by a political communication scholar in our communication department here, Geoff Craig.

Geoff’s done a lot of work on political and public communication in Australia and New Zealand (he was previously at Canterbury in Aotearoa/New Zealand; you can check out his book “The Media, Politics and Public Life” here).

The work he’s been addressing lately – in papers and in the seminar Monday – involves close analysis of political interviews, and other related things like leaders’ debates. He argues, among other things, that political interviews should be seen a sites of political struggle rather than as places where political information can be transparently accessed. He also argues that the constant demand for more “authenticity” in politics misses this fact, and the ways in which political personae are produced.

It’s fascinating stuff, and precisely the kind of academic research that political professionals and journos can benefit from hearing. Come along to the seminar if you have time and you’re in Canberra.

Here’s the ad for the seminar:

How Should A Prime Minister Speak? Habitus, Field, and the search for the real Kevin Rudd

By Geoff Craig

In June 2009 the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was lambasted for his persistent use of the phrase “fair shake of the sauce bottle” in a political television interview. Media commentary criticised Rudd for his lack of authenticity and pondered about the existence of the ‘real’ Kevin Rudd. This paper investigates how political subjectivity is framed and expressed through language use in television political interviews. It draws on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and field, supplemented by the work of Chouliaraki and Fairclough, to demonstrate how Prime Ministerial discourse (and political discourse more generally) involves negotiations between a particular habitus and the exigencies of the journalistic and political fields. Through an analysis of interviews of Rudd on The 7.30 Report and Insiders, it is argued that the Prime Minister attempts to exercise political authority through an ensemble of discourses, initiating different relations with the interviewers, political colleagues and opponents, leading public figures in other fields, and the Australian public.

And here’s something from the conclusion of a paper on a similar theme, which analyses a number of Rudd interviews during the 2007 election campaign:

Political news media interviews are instead fundamentally contest- able communicative encounters where the domains and meanings of politics are debated. It has been demonstrated here how the language use in political news media interviews necessarily expresses an ideological struggle over the meanings of individual issues and constructions of political leadership. In the discussion of the Sunday and Lateline interviews it has been shown how Kevin Rudd invokes a strategy to define ‘politics’ in such a way that suppresses his political self-interest while disengaging his political opponents from association with the interests of the Australian public. Rudd seeks through his interview answers to present himself as a rational political persona, a role that results from a careful negotiation between the cultivation of a ‘non-political’ character, the management of expressions of consensus and conflict, and the mobilisation of dominant cultural and social values. The discussion here also illustrates the extent to which political interviews are sites of struggle over the levels of political discourse that frame the roles of politicians and sites of struggle over the division between the public and private disclosure of information and opinion.

Craig, G., 2008. “Kevin Rudd and the Framing of Politics and Political Leadership in News Media Interviews.” Communication, Politics and Culture.