Brian Edwards Media

Sometime interviewer opines on Duncan Garner and other TV interrogators

Duncan Garner and I haven’t always been on the best of terms. We had a very public spat a couple of years ago about whether or not Garner was running a personal campaign to discredit Chris Carter. It included my asking whether TV3 ‘should be considering whether their Political Editor is fit to hold the job’ and stating unequivocally elsewhere that, ‘Duncan Garner can’t interview.’

I’m somewhat embarrassed today by those earlier comments. My embarrassment has in part been occasioned by getting to know Garner better over the last year or so, when we have both been appearing on TV3’s The Nation. Not only did he seem to hold no malice against me for my earlier disparaging comments, he was positively welcoming of his new colleague.

More importantly, I was drawn to the conclusion that, far from being unable to interview, Garner had become the best political interviewer in New Zealand by a country mile. I’ve found no reason to change that view.    

There is no shortage in New Zealand of interviewers who approach their subjects as though they were mass murderers who had somehow managed to  get away with it, but are now finally about to be exposed by the force of personality, intelligence  and dialectical skill of the questioner – Guyon Espiner, Sean Plunkett, Mary Wilson, Mike Hosking to name but four. Their bags of tricks include aggression, interruption and the immovable presumption of guilt.

Garner is different. You can see it in his posture. He sits forward or leans across the desk, conveying a sense of intimacy  bordering on warmth towards his interviewee. There is the air of the confessional about his questioning as if he were inviting his guest to ‘come clean, get it off your chest’. He never raises his voice, is rarely unpleasant, rarely interrupts other than to insist on a ‘yes or no’ answer. Softly softly catchee monkey.

So it’s unfortunate – far too weak a term – that Garner, declaring himself ‘exhausted’  (in no small part, it must be said,  a self-inflicted condition) will no longer be appearing on The Nation and, from the end of this year, will no longer be TV3’s political editor. In both roles he is irreplaceable, not for any lack of competent alternatives, but because he has set the bar too high.

Garner is to join Radio Live in the New Year as its drive-time host. He will, I suspect, come to regret that move. Though it appears to make more news than any other radio station, Radio Live is a broadcasters’ graveyard.

Meanwhile, The Nation’s Sunday morning competitor, Q & A, offers the increasingly eccentric interviewing of the great Paul Holmes, whose panel chairing invites entertaining bedlam – and Shane Taurima. Mr Taurima has received plaudits for his interviews on the programme. I’m bewildered. So wedded is he to his written questions that he barely has time to form eye-contact with his guest, let alone listen carefully enough to their answer to pose a follow-up question. This, I’m afraid, is Interviewing 101.

Question: How did Shane Taurima get this job? Answer: God knows.

My bias, as a contributor to The Nation, should of course be obvious. But Rachel Smalley leaves Taurima for dead. One can only hope that hosting Firstline and The Nation will not leave her ‘exhausted’ as well.

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  1. I thought Taurima started off on Q & A with some promise, but maybe that was in contrast to Holmes. But since his first interview or two he hasn’t impressed.

    But I wonder if it’s his fault. Q & A seems to operate on a predetermined schedule with a specific number od seconds allotted to each question. At times the interviews do get interesting, but suddenly you can almost see a blip in their ear and that chops the line of inquiry off and they move on to something different.

    Big ups for Smalley too, generally.

    Kudos also for how TV3 schedule The Nation. There was a time where they would probably have put it head to head with Q & A, but running a day beforehand, and then repeating an hour beforehand not only suits my watching discipline – I haven’t yet stuffed Saturday as well as Sunday – it gives them two opportunities to spin contents off into evening news items in the slow news time of the week.

    And they even stretch that into Firstline on Monday morning, which incidentally is far preferable for me than the other one, if I want to listen to someone chatting I’ll listen to my wife.

    I have grizzled at and will contain to complain about some of the things TV3 does, but comparatively they seem to have people who are doing a job rather than people who think the job is all about them.

  2. I’m a big fan of Rachel and

    Something has happened to Paul Holmes this year at Q & A which is causing him to lose his way on auto-cue, get facts jumbled and even ask Fran the other day what GFC stood for when she referred to it?

    Either something’s got to him after a torrid year of Waitangi outbursts etc or his health ( he’s been in Hastings hospital for protracted periods this year)is starting to take its toll.

    The test will be to see whether he has the nous to emulate Garner and bow out gracefully or hang on until the rabble media deride him into a rural pasture with a rug over his knees in sunny Hawkes’ Bay…the Riviera of the North :-)

  3. I think that John Campbell has had some great interviews but of course he also has had some frothy ones perhaps to satisfy some Audience expectations. At his best John asked some questions that I would want asked and he listened to the answers.
    I have a lingering memory of Duncan Garner slathering over an opportunity to demolish Winston, in his absence, in 2008 just before the Election. Not that I was a follower of Winston’s but a Duncan’s shouting fanatical nastiness rankled at that time so much so, that his co-panellists even looked a bit fearful. “Rabid” sprang to mind.
    Later interviews. Maybe better. The best? Nah!

  4. I don’t always agree with you Brian but think you are spot on this time you have hit nail on head. Duncan and Rachel top notch and sad to see Duncan go. Really enjoy your spot with Rach and Bill

  5. i said nice things about shane and he started started out v. well – but might have jumped the gun – needs to get a few more arrows for his bow.
    He’s persistent. Smalley worked hard with Hekia Parata – but she fended off very well. Q and A audience older = probably a lot are there for Holmes – but performances this year have become muddled – disconcertingly so. Enjoying you and Bill. The Nation has the upper hand right now – Guyon to replace Duncan?

    BE: “Guyon to replace Duncan?” Not my decision of course and Espiner is already with TV3 doing good work on 60 Minutes. I’m less impressed with him as a studio interviewer. In a research paper done by Judy in 2010 Espiner was shown to be 3.4 times more interruptive than Garner and 6.7 times more interruptive than Holmes in long-form political interviews. This suggests to me an interviewer less interested in the answers than in scoring points.

  6. I was most interested in your oservations about Radio Live, Brian. It staggeres me that they are still very much the also-rans in the two horse race of commercial talkback, instead of being a close second.

    In my view Lush is vastly more entertaining than Hosking (who presumably is paid by the word, or part thereof); Smith wins hands down against Laws for ZB but Danny Watson is Bore of the Year every year, and can’t compete with the comedy of that uneducated bigot Jackson (God knows how HE makes a living in the media) and his straight man, the hugely informative JT. Larry Williams is simply brilliant but the adverts grind me down and after dark it seems to me to be pretty much a draw.

    On the weekends Graeme Hill fronts an excellent and informative magazine programme against dire opposition (the bumbling, gibbering incompotent, let-me-tell-you-about-myself Holmes on Saturday and Andy someone on Sunday) and Live’s sports presenters are simply better than ZB’s offerings.

    But no matter what Live does, they never seem to BEGIN to close the gap! Why?

    JC: Edited. Defamatory.

  7. Ive always thought Bomber Bradbury would be the right(sic)man for the job.Completely myopic with one good eye for the absurd,and better comedy than most of those on tv .He may sound funny but under those jokes a sabre rattles keen for something to connect with.

    BE: Interesting idea.

  8. Thoughts on Julian Wilcox on Maori TV? I love his style on Native Affairs.

    BE: Very fine interviewer, I agree. If you search, you’ll find that I’ve written about him.

  9. It’s a real shame Garner is not still hosting The Nation, he seems to get much more information out of people. It is a very good show.
    QandA is cringeworthy, Taurima,s interviewing style is more akin to water boarding which on a Sunday morning is exhausting. Nothing wrong with being firm when questions are being avoided but at the end of his segment I never seem to have learnt anything except what Taurima,s personal affront is this week. As for QandAs panel well that just insulting, we heard the interview we don’t need it explained from some hugely partisan position.

    BE: OK. My only disagreement is that I find the riotous Q&A panel the only part worth watching.

  10. BE: “Question: How did Shane Taurima get this job? Answer: God knows”.

    It’s about honouring the Treaty of Waitangi, Dr. Edwards.

    BE: Cynical. I very much doubt that that had very much to do with it. To be fair to Shane, I wonder if he’s more comfortable in Maori.

  11. “…So it’s unfortunate – far too weak a term – that Garner, declaring himself ‘exhausted’ (in no small part, it must be said, a self-inflicted condition)…”

    What, has he got a drinking problem?

    Or is he like that other wheezing and bad tempered fatso, Sean Plunkett, and simply doesn’t look after himself well enough to work a normal day like the rest of us?

    BE: “What, has he got a drinking problem?” No, he has been working much too hard.

  12. Radio Live late-night talkback died when Martin Crump left. He was worth his considerable weight in gold. Presumably they could only afford to offer him silver.

  13. 13

    I don’t watch TV outside evenings so am pleased to hear Garner is a good interviewer. I wasn’t impressed by his pontificating as a political editor on TV3 though have to admit he was always onto the latest story ahead of TVNZ even if he had to inflate its importance.

    Questions are much more subversive than statements.

    BE: “Questions are much more subversive than statements.” Can you elucidate, Alan?

  14. I’d love to see Damian Christie given a crack at the “big time” as I think he’s capable of thinking on his feet.

  15. Garner exhausted?
    From licking John Key’s boots, perhaps.
    How sad. Never mind.
    Poorly read, ill informed Garner is a narrow minded right whinger like most in the NZ media these days.
    Thank god for the blogs!