Politicians have a specific agenda that either involves getting elected or boosting the perception that the electorate made a good decision by putting them in office. When interviewing politicians, stay aware of that agenda and how their answers play into it. Interviewing politicians means employing interrogation skills that elicit the truth, or at least the facts. Keep in mind that your own agenda can influence questioning, so if you intend to remain objective, avoid leading questions.
Ask a question or two to establish a baseline. A direct question that poses no particular emotional or intellectual challenge puts the politician at ease. The response you get will show how the person talks and acts when relatively relaxed. That response provides a baseline, which is a set of body language attributes that reveal normal behavior, or something close to it, considering that an interview naturally causes a certain amount of stress.
Watch for stress during questioning. Although not always an indicator of lying, stress sometimes does signal a lie. When you see stress, remember the question that triggered it and probe more deeply into that subject. Stress can show up as nervous or very pronounced gestures, an abrupt change of the subject, or a different tone of voice, for example.
Seek verification of facts when a politician discusses an opponent. Patti Mengers, past president of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a staff writer for the Delaware County Daily Times for more than 35 years, advises caution. "The information provided by politicians about their opponents is often misleading if not outright erroneous," she says. "A reporter needs to fact-check any information politicians provide about themselves or their opponents."
Get quantification of amounts when referenced. When a politician says things such as “a lot” or “many of them” ask “exactly how much (or how many) is that?” Politicians rely on such vague descriptions in order to evoke an emotional response. Remain objective and ask for numbers, as well as the source of those numbers.
Ask related questions using three different approaches: what, when and then what. People tend to recall things in terms of event, time or sequence, and when questioned, sometimes lies pop out. For example, a politician might talk about his war record in terms of events — “We fought in this battle,” or “We encountered the enemy in the hills.” Asking questions about the time when the battle occurred, or the sequence of events leading up to the battle could reveal discrepancies.
- Patti Mengers; Delaware County Daily Times; Primos, Pennsylvania
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