I have to say after watching two media friends of mine, Lisa Wilkinson and Peter Van Onselen, grill some politicians, I reckon our political reps could learn a trick or two from tennis (not yet) great, Nick Kyrgios!
Let’s start with Channel Nine’s great morning host, who I count as a friend along with her big boofy husband, Peter Fitzsimons. During the week, Lisa gave it to Barnaby Joyce after he playfully was giving her simple one-word answers, such as ‘yes’, ‘no’, etc. (Barnaby later told Lisa that giving monosyllabic answers kept him out of trouble!)
Showing how smart she is, Lisa then asked if he was impressed with Malcolm Turnbull as a Prime Minister. Now this prompted Barnaby to start using a whole pile of words, as this deserved some delicacy, given Malcolm’s poor showing over the weekend.
But Lisa interrupted and said: “No, no, it’s a simple question. Are you impressed with his Prime Ministership?”
And to that Barnaby bit the bullet and said: “Yes.”
But then she even ramped it up, asking: “Does he do a better job than Tony Abbott would’ve done?” And to that Barnaby knew there was no way out so he defiantly said: “Yes.”
Keep that thought and we’ll return to what Nick Kyrgios could teach Barnaby in a moment.
Now to my Sky mate, Peter Van Onselen, who was grilling Coalition Senator Michael Ryan, the Minister for Vocational Education and Skills yesterday afternoon. He too put the Senator on the spot with a question, that now escapes me, but it would’ve got him in deep ‘you know what’ with Malcolm, if he’d been too candid in his response.
It was then I realised that politicians needed to learn from Nick Kyrgios, who dealt with a pesky, intrusive reporter effectively this week.
Now to be fair, Nick had misbehaved (as usual), during his five setter, where he beat German Dustin Brown. However, the reporter’s question wasn’t on how well he played, but what he’d said to the umpire, to which Nick asked the reporter: “Have you never said a swear word in your life?”
That was a nice return of serve and he backed it up with this ‘volley’: “Can you answer my question?”
The reporter then played a cross-court backhander with: “It’s your job to answer questions.”
And to that Nick said: “No it’s not.”
He did go on a bit and won the point because the reporter was really fishing for a bad boy response and effectively was beaten to love!
Now back to Lisa and Peter.
When Lisa gave it to Barnaby (someone who can get his tongue in a knot at times but at other times can be really smart as his Johnny Depp encounter showed), he should have returned fire.
Imagine if he said to Lisa: “Well, looking at Nine’s share price, do you think the company’s CEO is doing a great job?” He could have followed up with: “It’s a simple question — ‘yes’ or ‘no’?”
Meanwhile, Senator Ryan could’ve asked Peter what he thought of Rupert Murdoch. That would have been great TV!
(For those who might be wondering what I’d say about Rupert, well, I’d start with the good bits such as he’s the greatest business builder in Australian history and would rank in the list of the greatest in the world generally. Then I’d quit while I was ahead!)
These questions are all rude and unnecessary intrusions and politicians shouldn’t be forced to answer these questions and that’s why they should return fire, like Nick did. (Of course, those questions are OK if the pollie tees up the questioner that he wants to tip the bucket on his boss.)
Sure, I know my friends and colleagues can ask these questions for sensational, audience-creating effects, but politicians should sometimes put them on notice that they’re going too far.
Barnaby could easily have invoked the team idea and said: “Malcolm is my captain coach and there’s no way I’m making a personal opinion assessment of him in the media, when we’re going through a tough patch after Labor lied about Medicare.”
Yes, we all know Malcolm is underperforming big time, but no one in the media should expect the Deputy Prime Minister to tip the bucket on the Prime Minister to make good TV.
We, in the media, can go too far. I reckon politicians, business leaders and everyone else who are asked hard questions of a Tony Jones kind should be able to say: “That’s a rude or unhelpful question that I refuse to answer.”
And I’d suggest them coming back with an equally rude and uncomfortable question to demonstrate how out of line we media smarty-pants interrogators can be.
The best politician comeback of all time was from Maggie Thatcher, who responded brilliantly to our own George Negus when he said “almost people in the street” tell him that she is “plain pig-headed”. And to that she brilliantly replied: “Could you tell me who has stopped you in the street and said that?” To which he replied: “Ordinary Britons.”
She came back with “Where?” She went on: “Tell me who, where and when? How many?”
When he said “one or two”, she knew she had him.
It was great TV and she even noted to him how George’s tone got more respectful the more she came back at him, without actually saying these precise words.
Politicians must be grilled on policy, intent, on lies and on deceptive behavior but they should be ‘Thatchered’ up for unnecessarily intrusive questions.
The only thing I feel guilty about is that Lisa and Peter did create interesting TV!
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