Interviewers don’t always get what they ask for but when they do, it can often cause difficulties for the interview.
Nick Robinson posed a long question to Michael Gove on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday and asked for a one word answer: yes or no. When Gove, the Secretary of State for Rural Affairs, duly obliged, Robinson had to confirm what the answer was referring to.
Long questions short answers
That is the problem with long questions and short answers: which part of the question is the answer referring to? In the transcript below, Robinson carefully built up his question (lines 01-10) before requesting a ‘yes or no’ answer. Gove (MG) duly obliged and answered ‘yes’ in line 12. But was this a ‘yes’ to ‘no extension’ or to the ‘customs problem’ or maybe to his friend and colleague Nick Boles? After a brief hesitation, Robinson (NR) in line 14 had to confirm the reference of the affirmative answer. Gove picked up on the difficulty of one word answers in line 17 and was able to see the funny side of things.
01 NR: this can be a one word answer if you wouldn’t mind 02 just to be absolutely clear 03 those who say 04 that the customs union 05 should just be extended a few months 06 your own (.) friend and colleague Nick Boles 07 you are saying 08 no extension (0.6) at all 09 in any circumstances 10 to deal with the customs problem 11 yes or no 12 MG: yes 13 (0.6) 14 NR: yes (0.5) there will not be an extension 15 MG: yes 16 NR: okay 17 MG: that’s the difficulties with one word answers 18 NR: yeh 19 MG: when you ask ((laughs)) 20 when you ask questions [that long Nick 21 NR: [ah forgive me 22 my [fault 23 MG: [but the truth is 24 I don’t believe in an extension 25 NR: you don’t believe in an extension 26 that is very clear
This is not the first time Michael Gove has momentarily disarmed an interviewer with surprisingly short and honest answers. See his interview here with Andrew Marr on the very same show: ‘Gove goes for brevity’
The Andrew Marr Show, BBC, 13th May 2018