- NL Sena
What we learnt from Arnab Goswami’s interview of Rahul Gandhi. You’d be surprised, it’s quite a lot.
Last night, the Rahul Gandhi faux-live interview was being telecast at the same time as the Grammy Awards. Presciently Daft Punk won Record Of The Year for what should become Rahul Gandhi’s theme song – Get Lucky. Sadly, what followed on Times Now was the opposite. While I’m horrified by Gandhi’s inability to articulate his vision for the country or even answer direct questions, what has horrified me more is why he was allowed to sit for an interview he was so ill-prepared for. What is the point of spending Rs 500 crore on a PR campaign if you’re going to allow your client to make a mess of himself on India’s most watched English news channel – I didn’t say that, Arnab and Times Now’s promos do. Here’s what I took away from this interview, if you could call it that.
1. Key messages. Any PR person worth his salt knows that the basics of media training are that you identify focused key messages for your client. Which he or she must keep reiterating whenever given the opportunity. Rahul Gandhi did so whether or not he was given the opportunity. So what were his key messages? RTI, Women’s Empowerment and Using The Energy Of The Youth. Repeated ad nauseum.
Of course the misuse of this training is when Rahul answers Arnab’s question of “Modi calls you Shehzada. What is your view on him?” with “What Rahul Gandhi and millions of youngsters in this country want to change is the way the system in this country works. Rahul Gandhi wants to empower the women, wants to unleash the power of these women.”
2. Life in third person. What is with Rahul Gandhi referring to himself as Rahul Gandhi? Or was he just parroting the media advisory which would have been handed to him by his minders, which would have referred to him in third person?
Arnab: “Are you avoiding a direct face-off with Modi?”
Rahul: “I will answer the question and that will give you some insight into how Rahul Gandhi thinks”.
Or maybe this is the side-effect of studying in England. Cambridge, no less.
3. When you don’t know an answer, ask a question in return. Or simply repeat your three key messages.When Arnab asks – “Is there a fear of loss?”, the right answer it seems is to say – “The real question is what am I doing sitting here. You are a journalist. When you were small you must have said to yourself I want to do something, you decided to become a journalist at some point. Why did you do that?”
Or when asked, “Do you feel overwhelmed by loss, by defeat, because you’ve had quite a few of late? How have you dealt with it?” Seemingly, by not understanding the question or addressing it. Because here was Rahul’s answer, “I’m here because I want to help use the energy of this country. I want to make this country powerful. I think basically there are three things to do. One is change the way we do politics…Second is empowering women….and third is using the energy of the youth of this country. The real thing is that it’s a heart thing. It’s a soul thing…I’m sitting here because I feel with all my heart…”
4. Don’t blame Arnab for not asking certain questions. This interview would have only been possible if Arnab and Times Now would have agreed to not ask Rahul Gandhi questions on certain topics such as Bofors and Robert Vadra. Like all good interviews arranged by minders – whether they be the PR agency or Rahul Gandhi’s lackeys – interviewers are briefed on what questions should not be asked and will definitely not be answered. Rahul’s not the only one who would put down these rules, less important people such as Hindi film stars put down rules on what they won’t speak on. A very senior TV channel editor and anchor had told me years ago about how a veteran film actor had specified that he would not answer any questions on his supposed affair with another veteran actress. That would have been the deal-breaker. Why expect Rahul Gandhi to agree to be questioned on Vadra’s dealings or Bofors? We’d be living in a perfect world then. Which this isn’t.
5. LIVE actually means pre-recorded. What is worrying is that this interview was pre-recorded. Most people had got their hands on the transcipt over an hour before it was telecast. Although we couldn’t believe that he would have given those answers, which is why we all suffered through the one-and-a-half-hour interview. Imagine what it would be like if it had been unedited? Since it was pre-recorded, Times Now could have been kind enough to edit out the bit where he smiled at someone off camera.
6. Silence isn’t golden. This is why one must have rehearsal after rehearsal before sitting down for any interview. Otherwise you get to witness the deathly silences which followed some of Arnab’s questions, only to be broken by “you aren’t asking me the right question, what you should ask is how I will empower women…but you are not going to wish away dynasty in a closed system. You have to open the system”.Oh Rahul, my heart was melting as fast as my brain was.
7. Do not question an interviewer if you aren’t sure of his answer. It’s simply bad form. What was with Rahul Gandhi asking Arnab whether he’d ever been to Cambridge, when asked about his education? Rahul looked utterly foxed when Arnab said he had. Or if I’m to carry forward the animal analogy, like a deer caught in the headlights. Rahul’s questioning would have been elitist if Arnab hadn’t responded with the fact that he had actually been to Oxford and to Cambridge. Next I thought Rahul would ask if he was also a regular customer at Rice Boat in Cambridge. But no such luck. There was no brevity, no sarcasm, no wit. Just silence and convoluted answers.
What I would give Rahul Gandhi credit for is that he completed the interview. Even though it was like watching a lamb being led to slaughter. He didn’t walk off or burst into tears, although at one point when questioned on his education, he did look petulant. If I was the Congress I would do a quick re-evaluation of my media outreach programme, and ask the PR agency and Rahul’s minders to concentrate as much on preparing him for questions as they did on making sure he was framed in a manner that his dimple was never out of focus. Maybe Rahul could tell this to his sister, who can then tell this to his mother, who can then tell this to him, and he can then tell it to his minders.