How do newspaper interviews usually take place

Political journalismThe art of a good interview

The broadcast will be repeated in a shortened version on December 31, 2020 at 3:35 p.m. on Deutschlandfunk. Here you can read and hear the complete version from April 10, 2020.

When we want to know something, we often only get ahead with questions. To get the right answers, we need to ask the right questions.

For us journalists this is everyday life - and craft. And yet we don't always get the answers we hope for. Because we don't ask good questions - or because our interviewees don't want to answer them.

What is the art of political interviews? How do experienced interviewers prepare for this? How do you see your role? How do you lead the interviewee through the conversation, where do you intervene, where not - and how do you deal with the conversation strategies of your counterpart?

Dozens of interviews are conducted every day on German radio and television, and there are thousands every year. Most of them are unspectacular. Question, answer, question, answer. But sometimes both sides dance out of line: the interviewee uses a special tactic, the interviewer falls out of the role.

We are interested in these interviews because they make it much easier to explain what such an interview actually is, according to which rules it works and what happens if one side breaks the rules.

Of course, not every interview is entertaining. Women politicians often answer journalists' questions. It gets interesting - and entertaining - when they don't.

Why interviews?

(David Ertl)Sandra Schulz, Editor and presenter at Deutschlandfunk: "I think the interview is an exciting, an incredibly direct, an incredibly educational form of reporting and journalism."

(dpa / picture alliance / ORF / Thomas Ramstorfer)Armin Wolf, Moderator of "ZiB 2", the daily news magazine on Austrian ORF television, comparable to "Tagesthemen" and "heute journal": "Interviews are one of the very few situations in which politicians are now beyond what they might sometimes meet normal citizens on the street or somewhere, where they have to deal with contradictions. "

(dpa / Axel Heimken)Marietta Slomka, Moderator of the "heute journal" on ZDF: "I think such interviews make sense because it is of course our job to question criticism and to bring those who make political decisions into direct confrontation that they just come up Inquiries, in response to inquiries, maybe also in response to several inquiries, and then the viewer has the opportunity to make a judgment for himself. How well this works, sometimes not. "

The interests of the interviewer and the interviewee are very different, says Armin Wolf: "The most important fact about such interviews with politicians is that it only looks like a conversation between two people. This is not a conversation between two people as one would expect Usually it's about a public appearance, it's about a conversation that is held for third parties. That means the politicians don't come into the studio because they would be particularly interested in answering the questions. They come too not in the studio because they want to get to know me, but they come to the studio because there are very, very many people in front of the television. "

And that has consequences, says Wolf, who is known for preparing his interviews particularly thoroughly. Politicians and their press staff considered strategically whether an appearance would be more useful to them or whether the annoying questions posed by the moderators were more harmful.

Communication professional meets communication professional

Armin Wolf: "But you are not interested in the questions. You are interested in the opportunity to appear. Now the other way around: We are not like that either - that sounds a bit cynical - not that interested in the answers either, because I know the answers Usually yes. I've read everything the guest has ever said publicly on this subject when he comes into the studio. I know pretty much what he'll say. I don't ask these questions for myself, I ask the questions for the audience. That doesn't know the answer yet. But that would mean a rather unfavorable situation for a conversation: I ask questions whose answer I already know, and the guest doesn't want to answer my questions at all, but actually wants to give an election speech many people hold, and a clock is also ticking, and there is very little time and usually a very complex topic. "

That is why interviewees often pursue their own strategies. Because the questions are often critical and deal with topics or aspects that are uncomfortable for the interviewee, he tries to switch to others.

With radio it is no different than with television, says Deutschlandfunk presenter Sandra Schulz: "On the other side, of course, there are also professionals, communication professionals who, if we as interviewers have the goal of making contradictions recognizable and somehow to counter the argument that they want to get their message across. I think it's perfectly clear from the interlocutor's point of view what the points are that you absolutely want to make. And if things go well in the interview, then you do them too. But I do not honestly believe that a politician goes into conversation with the expectation: Oh, now I am curious to see what exciting questions I will be asked here. "

How to ask

Journalism students learn to differentiate between different types of questions. An open question would be something like: How are you? Whereupon the interlocutor can tell a lot or a little. A closed question restricts him to a few alternatives, for example if it is: Are you feeling better again?

Ask openly or closed

Sandra Schulz: "So if I know that the person I am speaking to will have little inclination to answer my questions specifically, then I will answer a lot with closed questions, that is, with questions that can be answered with yes or no, just to be answered by the the next step to have the opportunity to go back in with an inquiry. "

Marietta Slomka: "And a closed question can have a sharpening effect and also force an answer or make evasion clearer than an open question. Sometimes, however, I also quite deliberately ask rather soft, open questions so that the other can first get rid of what he is He will anyway. That can't be prevented. A politician goes into talks with a message and he gets rid of it, no matter how. And then maybe better, he unloads once and then you can get started and the closed questions put."

to ask

But: closed questions, such as yes / no, cannot be asked just like that - you have to be ready to ask.

Friedrich Nowottny was not in his legendary 1972 interview. The WDR television journalist and moderator of the "Report from Bonn" had a short conversation with the then Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt - after his consultations with the French President Georges Pompidou.

Friedrich Nowottny: "Was the currency question, the unresolved European currency question, the most difficult problem of the consultations?"
Willy Brandt: "Yes."
Nowottny: "And you couldn't give the president a solution from our side?"
Brandt: "But."
Nowottny: "Did you give him the dates that were so important, the dates, the setting of the exchange rate for the Deutsche Mark?"
Brandt: "No."
Nowottny: "And you are sure that he was satisfied anyway?"
Brandt: "Yes."

Moderator Friedrich Nowottny during a recording in the Bonn television studio (dpa / picture alliance / Heinrich Sanden)

Ask half-openly

For ORF presenter Armin Wolf, in addition to open and closed questions, there is also a form in between, which he calls semi-open questions, for example according to specific facts such as when or where - to be used especially for interview partners who usually talk a lot.

"Interview professionals do not fall for this, of course, but are able to give a very long answer to even the most closed question, if they want. And the simplest trick is of course to say it is not that easy answer, but ... And then you can speak for as long as you like. In this respect, the type of questions among real professionals among the interviewees plays less of a role than one would like to believe. "

The role of the interviewer

"I actually always play the opponent in interviews, regardless of my own opinion. I always wear the hat of contradiction," says Marietta Slomka. "It's always about asking the opposing position and critically scrutinizing it, which then often leads to the fact that when I interview an SPD politician, his political opponents are happy and say: exactly right. While their own supporters say who is Yes, definitely totally conservative, Mrs Slomka, a black woman. And vice versa, exactly the same thing comes from the other side.

The opposite position

In order to be able to take this position, Marietta Slomka as well as Armin Wolf and Sandra Schulz read as much as possible during their preparation, sometimes for several hours, what they can find on the topic: to understand the topic, to narrow it down, to the position of the interlocutor to understand and those of his opponents.

Armin Wolf: "It's simply about developing counter-arguments to the politician's position. They are either already known because they are already present in the political discussion, and you can simply confront the politicians with this criticism. And otherwise, if If they are not there yet, each of us is in a position to come up with counter-arguments, completely independent of our own political opinion, for every political argument. "

The reproach

Nevertheless, some politicians occasionally find it fitting to make the viewer or listener believe that the journalist is not simply holding counterarguments against them, but making them his own opinion, for example CDU politician Julia Klöckner in an interview on Deutschlandfunk in 2016:

Julia Kloeckner: "I think, Ms. Schulz, we have to sort the story a bit now. Because the story you are telling now is the reading of the state government."

Sandra Schulz sees it as her task to take on exactly this role - ideally the exact opposite position to that of her interview partner, "because we are convinced that a conversation between two people who agree on the matter, the worst Case is terribly boring to hear - and that it is much more exciting when you hear a line of argument and then the interviewer stumbles upon the contradictions, stumbled upon what arguments may now have been left out and which you might also consider. And that's why we always try to come up with counter-arguments. "

Sandra Schulz: "Ms. Klöckner, I wanted to ask the question of understanding. You say it yourself: There is still a great deal in the dark. If it wouldn't be more logical to say then, we will clarify first, we will first set up a committee of inquiry, and depending on the situation what comes out, can you come up with a motion of censure? "
Julia Kloeckner: "That is again the interpretation of the state government, the traffic light coalition."

Klöckner made a similar attempt in the discussion on the relationship between the CDU and the Left Party after the CDU in Thuringia elected a prime minister in February 2020 together with the FDP and AfD. Klöckner spoke about this in the Deutschlandfunk interview with Sarah Zerback.

Sarah Zerback: "I wanted to pick up on the black and white thinking again, Ms. Klöckner. Doesn't one have to say at this point that it is high time for a fundamental debate about exactly what you are describing, namely about the relationship with the Left Party? Isn't it time to be less dogmatic, or is a Björn Höcke just as bad for you as a Bodo Ramelow? "
Julia Kloeckner: "It's nice that there are many journalism lawyers for Mr. Ramelow who step in for him."
Zerback: "I see myself as the listener's advocate, and it is a question that burns under the nails of many, why the CDU stubbornly adheres to this decision. I am simply interested in how you see it."

Questions for the audience

A role that Sandra Schulz, Marietta Slomka and Armin Wolf also claim: asking questions that the audience also has. And those are often the critical questions with the counter-arguments.

Sandra Schulz: "So it could be that we sometimes go into the interview with this incorrect expectation that you have the feeling that I am asking here until my interview partner also admits: Yes, that's right, that is not so plausible, I'll see it differently from now on. But of course we all know in the light of day that this will never happen. And of course it's not our goal, even professionally. "

preparation

Interviewers think about a number of questions beforehand that they want to ask their interviewee. Armin Wolf, Sandra Schulz and Marietta Slomka proceed differently. While Wolf and Schulz think about a few specific questions, Slomka only creates a piece of paper with key words from everything she has read.

Marietta Slomka: "A piece of paper with facts and of course a few keywords with question marks. And the introductory question, I usually formulate it, it has to be right. Then an answer to the introductory question follows, and then I play freely. And I think that this is also the better variant. Well, I don't think much of hanging around on previously formulated questions. That then makes you unfree, you don't really listen. You can then no longer formulate spontaneously, you shouldn't do that as an interviewer. "

The confrontation

Confrontation is the means to an end. For example in the already mentioned, memorable election of the FDP politician Thomas Kemmerich as Thuringian Prime Minister in February 2020 with the votes of the FDP, CDU and AfD. After the election, FDP politicians in particular were surprised by the voting behavior of right-wing populists - including Kemmerich himself and federal chairman Christian Lindner.

In an interview with Thomas Kemmerich in the ZDF "heute journal", presenter Marietta Slomka referred to explicit warnings that the AfD would vote for the FDP candidate.

Thomas Kemmerich: "We discussed in great detail in the party committees to offer this candidacy against candidacies from the left and right of the democratic center, and we had to expect this to happen. We will now make a policy against AfD, also against left radicalist demands, expropriation fantasies . We will convince through deeds ... "
Marietta Slomka: "Wait a minute, did I understand you correctly, you expected that to happen, that is, you weren't surprised, that's why you had already prepared a speech."
Kemmerich: "No, I did not prepare the speech. Ms. Slomka, you do not need to try to put that in my mouth. I faced a democratic election. And in your report we were able to see Mr Möller clearly how he did Democracy is mocked by now building a bogeyman of his tactics. I am elected by a majority of this Thuringian state parliament, I will take responsibility, this is a middle-class policy with good solutions and good opportunities for Thuringia. "
Slomka: "That means you deliberately got into this situation? Again, so that we can simply sort it out."
Kemmerich: "Ms. Slomka, I'll repeat it ..."
Slomka: "That wasn't naivete, you suspected that the AfD would do it that way."
Kemmerich: "No, I did not assume that."
Slomka: "Indeed not?"
Kemmerich: "There are..."
Slomka: "I mean, that was actually obvious."
Kemmerich: "Ms. Slomka, we have been discussing the possibilities of how a prime ministerial election can come about for days, in extreme cases with a yes vote. I have not ...There is no offer, there will be no AfD policy, I stand by that and you can measure me by that. "
Slomka: "How closely have you coordinated with Mr. Lindner? He said today that it is all the responsibility and the sole responsibility of the Thuringians."
Kemmerich: "We kept in constant contact. And of course says Christian Lindner, says the federal party, the final decision is made by the Thuringian Association."
Slomka: "But Mr. Lindner agreed that you run this election?"
Kemmerich: "He knew that we had made this decision."

It is important to listen carefully, says Marietta Slomka: "In order to be able to react quickly. So if, for example, in the history of Thuringia the FDP parliamentary group leader says: 'Yes, we suspected that', then of course I have to intervene and say immediately : 'How, did you suspect? So you knew what would happen'. And you only hear such little subordinate clauses if you listen carefully and don't already have your next question in mind. "

One day after the interview with Thomas Kemmerich, Marietta Slomka spoke to Christian Lindner, head of the FDP, in the "heute journal". She confronted him with knowledge that she had gained from the interview with Kemmerich. Lindner repeatedly denied that there was a collaboration with the AfD.

Marietta Slomka: "Again, it was warned about it. Did you warn him about it? And why didn't you advise him, if that should happen, then at least be smart enough and say: I will not accept the election."
Christian Lindner: "Yes, we also warned against it in committees. Myself ... You shouldn't become dependent on the AfD. The assessment was that the AfD has its own candidate, they will probably choose their own candidate. Now we can Both you and I analyze in retrospect, you shouldn't have accepted the choice. It's always like that with the observers, after that, hours later, you are much smarter and know what to do. Mr Kemmerich was obviously overwhelmed and spontaneously made a decision to accept the choice. And now, a day later, he corrected this decision himself. And I think that then you have to apply human standards and also allow someone to correct themselves. "
Slomka: "But when it comes to the office of prime minister, it's not a game where you get overwhelmed. And the realization that you won't accept such an election was something that many in their party had, for example Alexander Count Lamsbdorff, already very quickly, already yesterday. "
Lindner: "After that, yes. After that."

But that's one of the things with inquiries. One can question what has not yet become quite clear, where the interviewee is involved in contradictions. However, you are not entitled to an answer that fits the question - no matter how often you ask the question.

The follow-up

BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman holds the unofficial record for repeated questions. In 1997 he hosted Michael Howard, the then British Home Secretary and later head of the Conservative Tories. It was about a personnel issue in the prison administration.

Even for people who do not speak English, one thing becomes clear: Paxman keeps asking Howard the same question, to which he never gets a direct answer. The question is: "Did you threaten to overrule him?" - in German: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"

Jeremy Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Michael Howard: "I was not entitled to instruct Derek Lewis, and I did not instruct him."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "The truth of the matter is that Mister Marriott was not suspended."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "I did not overrule him."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "I took advice on what I could and could not do ..."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "... in accordance with that ... I did not overrule him."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "... Mister Marriott was not suspended."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "I have accounted for my decision to dismiss Derek Lewis ..."
Paxman: "Did you threaten to overrule him?"
Howard: "... detail before the House of Commons."
Paxman: "I note you're not answering the question whether you threatened to overrule him."
Howard: "The important aspect of this ..."
To the complete interview.

Jeremy Paxman asks this question a total of twelve times within less than two minutes - several times with the indication that the question was not answered, once even with an apology that he asked again. In the end he says "Right" and carries on.

"Did you threaten to overrule him?" - BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman in 1997 (dpa / Photoshot / Universal Pictorial Press Photo)

Here the knowledge does not lie in the answer - or rather in the fact that it is denied.

Dealing with the denial

Like in 2018, when WDR presenter Philipp Menn asked Alice Weidel, the AfD co-group leader in the Bundestag. It was about a mail with racist and anti-democratic content that was assigned to Weidel. At first she denied having written the email, later the AfD withdrew this contradiction, but without confirming Weidel's authorship. At the end of the interview, Menn asks again for the mail.

Philipp Menn: "Can you rule out that you wrote this mail?"
Alice Weidel: "Everything has already been said about this."
Menn: "Can you rule out ..."
Willow: "I thought we wanted to ... I thought we wanted to talk politics."
Menn: "Can you rule out that this mail was sent from your account?"
Willow: "Everything was said about this last year."
Menn: "Can you rule that out?"
Willow: "I've said everything about it."
Menn: "So someone else wrote it."
Willow: "I've said everything about it."
Menn: "So can you rule that out or you can't rule it out?"
Willow: "You can ask me ten thousand times about it. I was asked about it last year and everything was said on the subject."
Menn: "That means, you give no answer to it."
Willow: "Correct."
Menn: "Maybe your constituents want to know if you wrote that."
Willow: "Everything has already been said on that."
Menn: "Maybe we'll do that in the next show ..."

However, a question can also be answered in other ways than by denial. In 2019, Anton Hofreiter, the leader of the Greens in the Bundestag, chose a lot of words to avoid a question from Deutschlandfunk presenter Christoph Heinemann. Heinemann wanted to know whether Hofreiter supports the school strikes for the climate movement "Fridays for future". Heinemann spent more than nine minutes trying to get an answer to this question.

Christoph Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, what does compulsory schooling mean?"
Anton Hofreiter: "I think that this is a classic debate to distract, to make these young people small, to not take their concerns seriously."
(...)
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, what does compulsory schooling mean?"
Rider: "As I said! I already said: This is this classic debate in order not to take these young people seriously ..."
(...)
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, why can you not answer this very simple question? What does compulsory schooling mean?"
Rider: "I could answer this question for you. But these young people are not interested in compulsory schooling ..."
(...)
Heinemann: "Well, you obviously can't answer the question. How should schools react when students demonstrate on Fridays?"
Rider: "I think it's wonderful, so to speak, that these young people want to talk about the climate crisis ..."
(...)
Heinemann: "Why can't teachers who want to uphold the school rules rely on the Greens?"
Rider: "As I said, you are doing it for the fourth time. The young people are concerned with the climate crisis. They are not concerned with the climate crisis. They are concerned with infantilizing these young people ..."
(...)
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, you haven't answered this question either. How should teachers react when students are absent today without excuse? I'll put it a little more simply."
Rider: "As I said, we won't get together there. I want to talk about the climate crisis. You want to reduce these young people to whether they go to school or not. Clever students once said that the train drivers don't go on strike during either their sparetime."
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, please excuse me! I asked you about teachers. How should they react if pupils do not show up for class today or on Fridays for Future?"
Rider: "Teachers should simply and sensibly talk to their students about what they can do to prevent the people in power now from destroying their future."
(...)
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, should young people only go to school when they have nothing better to do?"
Rider: "As I said, this is also this classic line of argument, from which you can see that you don't take young people seriously ..."
(...)
Heinemann: "Mr. Hofreiter, would you also support demonstrations by schoolchildren during school time that had completely different goals as their content, for example against immigration or against the European Union?"
Rider: "I have already told you that I am not in favor of this. I have already told you that I believe that these students' concerns must be taken seriously and that there is not a major diversionary debate that you are also very aggressive lead here. "
Heinemann: "You are not in favor of the Fridays for Future demonstrations? Do I understand that correctly?"
Rider: "I support the demonstrations."
Heinemann: "Yes what now?"
Rider: "It's really amusing how we go around in circles here. I just said that the students have to decide for themselves and that their concerns have to be taken seriously."
Heinemann: "Good! - Anton Hofreiter from Alliance 90 / The Greens."
To the complete interview.

The interviewee does not always try so aggressively to distract from it that he does not want to talk about the same topic as the interviewer. Most of the time it is much more subtle.

After the Thuringian state election in 2014, the incumbent Prime Minister Christine Lieberknecht had apparently resolved in the "Tagesthemen" interview to accommodate three messages - regardless of what moderator Caren Miosga asks. One of the messages: people have chosen stability and reliability.

Caren Miosga: "Ms. Lieberknecht, according to the current status, black-red would have one more vote. Is that enough for you to rule?"
Christine Lieberknecht: "The people voted for stability and reliability. And I am sure that stability and reliability will also be found in the next coalition negotiations. That is a voter mandate and I would like to take on this responsibility. And I am sure that we will do so on this basis manage to form a good coalition. "
(...)
Dear servant: "We are building a coalition based on stability and reliability. And that is exactly what the voters want."
(...)
Dear servant: "I say we are the strongest party by far. The voters have chosen stability and reliability, and that is why I am sure that this will also be the vote in the next coalition talks, and we will definitely get good results there . "

The interruption

There is usually little time in the daily political interview. In the ORF magazine "ZiB 2" it is sometimes ten to twelve minutes. "Tagesthemen" and "heute journal" usually have three to six minutes for this. Since only a few questions are possible, the interviewers are interested in interrupting their interview partner as soon as it becomes clear that he will not answer the question and instead tries to talk himself as much as possible of the time available.

Marietta Slomka calls this the Wortreich strategy, "in other words, describing a relatively simple context very, very, very, very, very in detail, there is not so much space and time for inquiries. Which is why I interrupt what I like to call Rudeness, less from the politicians, who know what is going on, more from the audience, while I have my eyes on the clock that is running backwards. So this being very, very detailed is popular. Then talk about what Everything was done, for example, to include election campaign topics, although the question actually remained, what is going on in Thuringia. And then Mr. Lindner explains what great topics they actually had during the federal and state elections, so on It is popular to run sidings or to pretend that a question doesn’t even arise. So: the question doesn’t even arise very popular method. And when my name is mentioned a lot, then I also know that someone on the other side is just a little tight around the neck. "

ORF presenter Armin Wolf is also often confronted with this strategy - and at least twice with a special guest who did not want to understand the principle of question and answer.

In 2012 and 2013, the Austrian-Canadian industrialist Frank Stronach was a guest, who wanted to run in elections with his own party, Team Stronach.

Frank Stronach: "I would like to read out what I said in committee, it was recorded ..."
Armin Wolf: "But..."
Stronach: "... and then I am ready to answer this question ..."
wolf: "But that was a very clear question. That was a very simple question that wasn't asked like that in the committee."
To the complete interview.

Stronach insisted on reading his five-minute statement first. It was only when Wolf threatened to break off the interview several times that Stronach accepted questions, but repeatedly attacked Wolf and ORF.

Similar in a second interview almost six months later. Stronach gave lengthy speeches that had nothing to do with the question until Wolf interrupted the interview.

Armin Wolf: "Mr. Stronach, do you know the writer Mark Twain?"
Frank Stronach: "Yes, of course, I've heard a lot from him."
wolf: "Yes, Mark Twain ... Good. Mark Twain once wrote: An interview usually consists of the interviewer who asks questions and the interviewee who answers them."
Stronach: "No no..."
wolf: "Now your answer had absolutely nothing to do with my question. I would like to know again how much the Austrian administrative apparatus can save on the whole."
Stronach: "You have a problem. You always want yes or no. I could also say ..."
wolf: "No, I don't want yes or no, I want a number."
Stronach: "... is the ORF ... is the ORF ... Tell me yes, is the ORF well run economically. Tell me yes or no."
wolf: "Mr. Stronach, Mr. Stronach, an interview consists of an interviewer who asks the question, that's me in this case ..."
Stronach: "You are a government employee, I am a tax ..."
wolf: "No, I am not a government employee ..."
Stronach: "Yes, you are with ORF. Then it is just a hidden job ..."
wolf: "Mr. Stronach!"
Stronach: "You can't say that you are now privately employed ... that this is a private company."
wolf: "Mr. Stronach."
Stronach: "That’s all ... What you are saying now is not true."
wolf: "I'm not a government employee, it doesn't matter."
Stronach: "You ... you ... you work ... Do you know what corruption is?"
wolf: "Yes, I think so, I know."
Stronach: "Yes, corruption. Well, I think ... I don't think so. Corruption is also, people who consciously ... Corruption ... support corruption, structures and values, and I believe, like in the heart, in the mind, You agree with me, but you know that if you don't follow the parties, if you behave like that, then you don't have this position. Because this association or the ORF is only run by political officials.
wolf: "Mr. Stronach, you are wrong, but I don't want to discuss the ORF with you, let's discuss the monetary union ..."

In this interview, Armin Wolf found himself forced to interrupt his guest too often. A tricky thing in Austria, says Wolf, after all, there is a special tradition there that some would describe as obedient to authority: Interrupting is considered impolite.

"Not all interviewees are equally bad, you have to say that." - Armin Wolf from the Austrian broadcasting company ORF. (dpa / picture alliance / ORF / Thomas Ramstorfer)

That is why he cannot usually intervene immediately when he realizes that there will be no answer, says Wolf: "And if a guest does it very skillfully, like our current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who is really a master at this tactic, namely, that he, apparently referring to the question, answers the question by a hair's breadth and tells in great detail and at length what he actually wants to tell, but formulates it in a very interesting and skilful way, then it becomes very difficult very, very many viewers in front of the phone and think to themselves, but that's very interesting what he is saying. And when I interrupt, many viewers think, let them talk. Yes, and why did you actually invite him, if Don't you let him finish? "

Sebastian Kurz: "But let me just explain one thing. For example, I was already in a coalition with the Social Democrats. There were gruesome protests from the socialist youth against the Pope, and they worshiped Lenin, the millions ..."
(confused from here on)
Armin Wolf: "But, Mr. Kurz, now I know ..."
Short: "Please, Mr. Wolf, let me have a moment ..."
wolf: "Now I know that you would like to talk about the SPÖ, I would like to talk to you about the government."
Short: "No, I want it ... Yes ..."
wolf: "I'll talk to Ms. Rendi-Wagner about the SPÖ, that makes more sense."
Short: "I just tried that, let’s say one sentence ..."
wolf: "No, I would like to stay with the government. It's missing ..."
Short: "But I would like to explain something to you. If you have a coalition partner, then you will repeatedly experience that something does not suit you there, does not like it, is reluctant. If the Social Democrats adore Lenin, then that disgusts me. And if a rat poem is published in the FPÖ, this disgusts me as well. "
wolf: "And when Mr. Strache says population exchange, does that disgust you too?"
Short: "That's something I don't like."
wolf: "But you don't get disgusted?"
Short: "It's a word I refuse."

The tactical attack

Occasionally, interviewers have to expect to get a lot of contradictions from their interviewees.

A popular strategy, especially by the long-time SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel. Whether in the ZDF interview with Bettina Schausten 2015 ...

Sigmar Gabriel: "I find your question totally strange"
(...)
Gabriel: "None of what you say is correct, Ms. Schausten. Sorry for saying that in all clarity."
(...)
Bettina Schausten: "What is not wrong, you have just done it again, is that, unlike the Federal Chancellor, you name an upper limit and say that it is one million, more is not possible with us."
Gabriel: "Excuse me, I have to interrupt you, that is also wrong."
Show: "Then explain it, then explain what you mean by that, that's how it will be perceived."
Gabriel: "No, you perceive it that way and you send it that way."
(...)
Gabriel: "I don't know how you come up with it ..."
(...)
Gabriel: "That's right wrong, sorry ..."
(…)
Gabriel: "Nobody can answer this question for you ..."

... in the Dlf interview with Silvia Engels in 2012 ...

Sigmar Gabriel: "Even the first sentence from you is wrong. We have never ..."
Silvia Engels: "Well so what!"
(...)
Gabriel: "Nope. That really is a smooth invention that you are currently producing here. It has never been seen in Germany."
(...)
Gabriel: "Sorry, what you are saying is not true."
(...)
Gabriel: "You are currently sending out reports that are quite unsettling to voters."
(...)
Gabriel: "Your view is simply wrong. Sorry! I can't help it. I'd rather see you tell it correctly."
Angel: "Ah, I'm really happy to hear that."

... or in the Dlf interview with Christoph Heinemann about the SPD Afghanistan conference in 2010:

Christoph Heinemann: "Is there any envy with regard to Mr. zu Guttenberg? The man is extremely popular and the SPD currently does not have one like that to offer."
Sigmar Gabriel: "You know, it's obviously the same with you as it is with my grandmother. She always said ..."
Heinemann: "I do not know her."
Gabriel: "I know that, but the saying is very interesting: 'What I think and do, I trust everyone else.' If that were your way of dealing with politics, then it's good that you stayed in journalism In any case, it's not ours. "
Heinemann: "And it is good that you became the SPD chairman and not a journalist."
Gabriel: "Yes, of course. I never applied for it!"
Heinemann: "Well then! Neither do I for the party chairmanship. So everyone has their task."

The interview by Sigmar Gabriel with ZDF presenter Marietta Slomka in 2013 is also legendary. The SPD wanted to vote on the coalition agreement with the CDU and CSU, and Gabriel himself presented the agreement at a regional conference.

Much discussed: The "heute journal" interview by presenter Marietta Slomka with the SPD party chairman at the time, Sigmar Gabriel (picture alliance / dpa)

Slomka raised the objection from constitutional lawyers to Gabriel that a membership decision could be viewed as a kind of second federal election because the party members alone would decide whether a coalition would come about.

Sigmar Gabriel: "And with other parties, Ms. Slomka, with other parties, Ms. Slomka, small groups decide, there are even fewer people who decide the fate of Germany - in their argumentation - and we have 470,000 members. I don't know why that should be bad. "
Marietta Slomka: "Mr. Gabriel, I thought ... I actually thought that in Germany all state power emanates from the people, and that the electorate decides."
Gabriel: "Yes, what does the CDU do then? How did the voter decide? He has decided that Ms. Merkel represents the strongest parliamentary group and the strongest party. But the voter did not decide that she had an absolute majority. And now there are coalition negotiations to clarify with whom a majority is formed. And in the CDU it is not the voters who decide, but the party executive of the CDU and the party executive of the CSU. They are far fewer people than in the SPD. Do me a favor, let's finish the nonsense, it has nothing to do with reality ... "
Slomka: "Well, Mr. Gabriel, this nonsense is being used by very serious ..."
Gabriel: "We get, we get ..."
Slomka: "This nonsense is being discussed by very serious constitutional lawyers ..."
Gabriel: "We'll get in two weeks, we'll get ..."
Slomka: "... and you can then face it."
Gabriel: "Yes. I'm doing that right now."

Slomka: "That was an interesting discussion situation in many ways, but it is not exemplary either. It was very special. It was a special situation because the SPD and its party leader were under high pressure and he was also a bit like something needed an external enemy to integrate the internal group. It is a relatively simple social function, and he had already cursed the media in the hall at this party congress, at the delegates' conference, and has now also mentioned it, and now he would Give an interview to ZDF and they would ask stupid questions again. In the same way. But I didn't know that at the time, I only found out afterwards. That means there was already a lot of steam in the boiler and the desire to meet someone to find, against whom one can now, so to speak, show solidarity. So it was already at 180 when the interview started. "

Marietta Slomka: "But let's talk about something else. If your party ... Yes, you are now saying that this is nonsense, this is a special form of argument. But if you take your party members so seriously ..."
Sigmar Gabriel: "Yes, I tried you, Ms. Slomka."
Slomka: "If you change your party limit ..."
Gabriel: "It won't get any better if we mutually ..."
Slomka: "If you take your party members so seriously ..."
Gabriel: "It doesn't get any better if we treat each other like that."
Slomka: "I am not treating you badly at all, I will ask you questions that I did not come up with, this criticism."
Gabriel: "I take the members of the SPD seriously because I am the chairman of the SPD, and I have arguments for you ... I have argued why I do not consider this to be very sustainable, and I do not know of any constitutional lawyer who is open to this debate And that's why I say: This is nonsense. In other countries ... "
Slomka: "Professor Degenhardt and a few others, they are all in the newspapers today ..."
Gabriel: "In other countries ... in other ..."
Slomka: "But the interesting question is if you have your party members ..."
Gabriel: "Ms. Slomka, what you say is not true."
Slomka: "Yes. You can read that."
Gabriel: "It is not the first time that you do nothing in interviews with Social Democrats than to turn the word around in our mouths."
Slomka: "Mr. Gabriel, you will not assume anything now, please."
Gabriel: "Look at the party law ... Look ... Yes, you do that too."
Slomka: "The criticism I have mentioned is in the newspapers, from professors who are discussing it, and who take it seriously, that's actually okay."
Gabriel: "Yes, me too."
Slomka: "You don't have to see it that way, but you can at least discuss it."

Slomka: "I was angry because he assumed I was biased and said we know how they deal with SPD politicians. That is outrageous. I resented him. I would say that at any time if he did I think he would accept that too, the criticism. And I didn't think that was okay, because that also affects my journalistic honor. I am not partisan. I do not approach SPD politicians differently than politicians from other people Parties. That is simply not true, and he actually knows that too. And I thought that was unfair, and at that point I got really angry. (...) But what you shouldn't be, of course, should be professional Then always stay calm. But we are only human, yes, and not just the interviewees, also the interviewers, and in the situation there was a lot of humanity to be seen on both sides. That is probably what makes it so unusual and has it d That's why this conversation caused a stir. "

The strategic attack

A conversation with high entertainment value, but with moderate gain in knowledge and without any noteworthy consequences. This is different in an interview by ORF presenter Armin Wolf in spring 2019 with a politician from the right-wing populist FPÖ, which is hostile to the public broadcaster ORF.

This line of conflict already existed when, in April 2019, the FPÖ's top candidate for the European elections, Harald Vilimsky, came to the evening news magazine "ZiB 2" for an interview.

The FPÖ top had just distanced itself from a racist poem by a local functionary. Moderator Armin Wolf wanted to ask Harald Vilimsky how he felt about a racist poster of the FPÖ youth organization from Styria. Vilimsky did not distance himself, but went over to the counterattack.

Harald Vilimsky: "This story is known in Styria for a year, nobody in Styria, in the Landtag it is upsetting. But we can also use the time today in a discussion about European political issues with this story ..."
Armin Wolf: "It still stands today ..."
Vilimsky: "... just like the last time you were just trying to harm this government somewhere."
wolf: "Mr. Vilimsky ..."
Vilimsky: "And I also know that you are constantly raising the mood against us on Twitter, in the social networks. You are also at liberty to do so. I am just saying that this is not the best for an ORF presenter."

Wolf insisted that Vilimsky answer the question. In order to illustrate the racist nature of the poster, he had an anti-Semitic caricature in the Nazi newspaper "Der Stürmer" fade in for comparison, whereupon Vilimsky made new allegations.

Harald Vilimsky: "So drawing this parallelism here, Mr. Wolf, is the very last drawer. By taking a picture of the 'striker' here, juxtaposing it with the youth poster and giving the impression that we are close to National Socialism ..."
Armin Wolf: "No, I..."
Vilimsky: "... were is something that cannot remain without consequences."
wolf: "I would just like to know ... For the FPÖ in ... or for the youth organization in Styria, I assume, right?"
Vilimsky: "It has been known for a year that nobody in Styria gets upset."
wolf: "You don't get upset either?"
Vilimsky: "It is obvious ... with European policy ..."
wolf: "You don't mind?"
Vilimsky: "I wouldn't do it like that, but you invite me here on the occasion of the presentation of our Europe campaign and come to me with things like that, with a comparison of the striker, that's something I've never seen on ORF. It has a quality that is open at the bottom. It is otherworldly, Mr. Wolf, what you are doing there. "
wolf: "I ask you because you are Secretary General of the FPÖ ..."
Vilimsky: "Yes."
wolf: "... and as Secretary General you are also the top candidate."
Vilimsky: "Yes, what do you see reprehensible? Tell me. What is reprehensible about it for you?"
wolf: "I see here ... I see here a representation of apparently foreign-minded people, which looks very similar to the visual representation of Jews in the striker back then."
Vilimsky: "Yes, I think that's so tasteless, I think it's scandalous ..."
wolf: "Yes, I also think that's tasteless."
Vilimsky: "Yes, to make this assumption here. That is a year old."
wolf: "Does that make it better?"
Vilimsky: "You are coming up with it today as if it were some story that had just come back. That no one has annoyed, yes. That you are now trying to pull up and scandalize on public broadcasting a month before the EU elections. I think so for a scandal in a class of its own. "
To the complete interview.

When Harald Vilimskys threatens that it cannot be without consequences, moderator Armin Wolf lets the attack roll off and relates it to the racist poster.

Wolf: "Well, of course I knew that Vilimsky meant it differently and said that it could not be without consequences for me. That was already clear to me, I know Mr. Years of interviewing FPÖ politicians. "

(imago stock & people) FPÖ attacks Armin Wolf
The FPÖ demands the dismissal of ORF journalist Armin Wolf after he asked the European politician Harald Vilimsky unpleasant questions live on television. For the publicist Armin Thurnher it is clear: "These campaigns have a system."

That is why Wolf expects such attacks again and again by FPÖ politicians who fundamentally reject the ORF and are often only looking for a reason to scandalize its work. However, the debate after the Vilimsky interview in 2019 was the most violent between the FPÖ and ORF, which preoccupied Austria's media and politics for weeks until it was replaced by the corruption scandal surrounding FPÖ boss Heinz-Christian Strache with the Ibiza video, the government broke up and the ORF reform was initially not pursued any further.

Attacks from both sides

Deutschlandfunk presenter Sandra Schulz also knows that such attacks are part of the strategy of those interviewed, although they are still rather rare in Germany.

Schulz: "Well, I don't get upset about it, because I find it absolutely legitimate that every interlocutor also works rhetorically with different methods and with different styles. I try to prevent the interlocutor from being able to interpret this attack or even moderating of the conversation. Well, then I would never get involved in lengthy arguments.But that one then briefly replies, I am asking this in the interest of the listeners, because many may have asked themselves that now, I could imagine such a reply. "

It depends on both sides whether there will be provocations, says Armin Wolf. His interview style is different from that of Marietta Slomka, Claus Kleber or Caren Miosga, and the interviewees also acted very differently.

Wolf: "And of course an interview with someone who argues very provocatively, who is very polarized, who is very edgy, has a different atmosphere than a guest who willingly answers every question, does not try to make excuses, to avoid questions or even to attack the interviewer, the interviewer. "

Questions in a state of emergency

All interviewers see themselves in the role of those who critically question what has been politically decided or planned. The corona crisis has shifted coordinates here too.

The choice of interview partners and the way they are dealt with differs from everyday business, says ZDF presenter Marietta Slomka. She speaks more often with virologists and other experts - and because a crisis is the hour of the executive, also more often with representatives of federal and state governments. There are many questions of knowledge and little political exchange of blows, instead a common search for solutions and answers.

(Imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte) Dossier: Consequences and developments of COVID-19
The number of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues to rise despite countermeasures by many governments. The Robert Koch Institute has now classified the health risk for Germany as high. In almost all federal states, public life is drastically restricted.

Slomka: "The questions are now, yes, formulated more cautiously, I would say, that's okay too. You can do that for a while in such a crisis. That doesn't mean you don't question. Well, I have too now at the time critical questions were asked, for example, to the Governing Mayor of Berlin: 'Why were you so hesitant?' and and?' and or?' Or questions to Mr Söder: 'Is it good if a federal state rushes forward like that?' So such questions naturally take place, we don't suddenly stop all criticism, every critical questioning. But it is not this confrontational basic goal of an interview, this crisis is simply unsuitable for that. And of course we have an incredible number of expert interviews and those are completely different conversations anyway . "

Such as an interview with the German-Italian politician Laura Garavini, who was connected to the Internet during the state-mandated quarantine in Italy. Less as a politician, more as a contemporary witness, says Slomka. Garavini reported on the situation in the cities and hospitals, the curfew and aid deliveries. And in the end it got personal.

Marietta Slomka: "Indeed. Ms. Garavini, all the best, take care of yourself and thank you for talking to us."
Laura Garavini: "I thank myself."

Slomka: "And at the same time as a politician - as a German-speaking politician, the decisive selection criterion is of course why we asked her - she is someone who is used to speaking publicly and who also has a public function in the Italian Senate, and not now at random anyone. Well, she was both a victim and a politician. "

The exit

There isn't forever time for interviews, especially not embedded in a news magazine like Tagesthemen, "heute journal" and "ZiB 2".

But when is everything said? When does an interview end? Armin Wolf and Sandra Schulz agree on that.

Armin Wolf: "When the time is up." (laughs) "Well, for interviews on really complex topics with interview professionals, six, seven or eight minutes are usually not enough. Well, I could always do 20 minutes or 25 minutes, in that sense it doesn't end."

Sandra Schulz: "The interview is over when we have what we call the back timer or the music that comes a few seconds before the news. Unfortunately, it is almost always the case that we have ten to 700 questions on ours Have notes when the news comes or when we know, yes, that the ten, twelve, we also have longer interview sections, the 13 minutes of interview time are up, then at the very latest it will be over. I would say that with us it is more like that Except that you come to a point where you say so, now everything has really been said. It was enough for me. I found it boring now. I had no need to ask any further questions. So that's with us I would say that time has often been the limiting factor that dictates that the interview is over now or has to come to an end.

@mediasres special from April 10th, 2020
"Let's end the bullshit" - The Art of the Good Interview
A broadcast by Stefan Fries
with Marietta Slomka, Sandra Schulz and Armin Wolf
Editor: Bettina Schmieding
A production by Deutschlandfunk 2020