When you’ve read this short post have a look at the interview below with David Cunliffe on last night’s Campbell Live . But first, if you haven’t done so already, please read my previous post on the ex Labour leader, titled “Some acting experience an advantage but not required”. To be absolutely fair to David Cunliffe, I should perhaps add that, like all senior politicians, he has on his team people whose job it is to advise him on media issues, to analyse and comment on his radio and television appearances and to prepare him for upcoming interviews and debates, possibly by workshopping those exchanges. Their job is not to ra-ra their employer’s efforts but to be brutally frank in critically analysing his performance.
The blame for Cunliffe’s misguided and vote-losing approach to his exchanges with the Prime Minister during the last election and particularly his final televised debate with John Key on TV One, must be proportionally shared with those advisers. The best television interviews look like chats. The tone is relaxed, the language informal, the posture forward, demonstrating interest and keenness. In last night’s interview with Campbell, Cunliffe’s tone is defensive and overbearing, his language formal and high-flown, his posture rigidly erect. His replies are repetitive and little more than a series of mini-speeches. He is talking at rather than to Campbell and the interviewer’s impatience and frustration become increasingly evident during the discussion. At one point Campbell accuses the former Labour Leader of being disingenuous.
I have from time to time quoted my old friend Ian Fraser’s adage that to be successful in television interviews you have to learn to “act yourself”. I think the rationale behind this advice was that the nerves that affect most people appearing on television make it virtually impossible for them to “be themselves”. But on the whole I incline to the view that the real you, however nervous, will make a better impression on your audience than some unreal you looking confident and in control. The real David Cunliffe might well succeed. The actor David Cunliffe can expect only bad reviews and a short season.