Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Why is this lying bastard lying to me?"

So, now that one pope has been buried and another smoked out of the Vatican, and Chas and Milla are busy settling down to married life, we can turn our full attention to this election thing. And oh, what a linguistic smorgasbord of stuff has been laid out for our delectation this week.

First up, is the nature of political interviewing itself. Jon Snow, of Channel 4 News, is arguing that the BBC political heavyweights, especially Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman but also Radio 4's James Naughtie and John Humphreys, have gone too far, turning political interviewing into some kind of gladiatorial mauling with little purpose other than the spectacle of the fight. He wants rigour but with a bit more courtesy than Paxman's trademark sneering, interruptions and repetition of the question as many as 20 times in order to get past the politicians' spin and gloss. This raises interesting questions about how different journalists perceive the relationship between language and power.

Here's the stuff about Jon Snow's point of view:

Snow wants Paxman to show respect

And here's the BBC's response:

Why we love the "Paxman problem"

And if you want to get your teeth into some meaty academic research into political interviewing, check this out:

Poisoning the well of democratic debate

And that brings us onto the second hot story, about Paxman's interview of Tony Blair on last night's Newsnight. The Financial Times calls it a "mauling", but Simon Hoggart in The Guardian seems to think that Tony Blair was well up for it and the Spanish Inquisition itself would have had a hard job cracking him. Hoggart gives us a neat summary of the techniques each man used to assert his power, some of which were non-verbal, and some linguistic. Check these out, then take a look at the full interview text to see what else you can spot.

Tony sees off the Inquisitor-General

Full text: Blair's Newsnight interview

And in case you're bored of Tony Blair, here's some political balance with an interesting analysis of how Michael Howard is using language to talk about immigration issues. His campaign soundbite that "it's not racist to talk about immigration" is logically truthful. But this article shows that if you analyse the semantic values of the words politicians are using to do that talking, and the collocations of words that they are establishing, then it is clear to see that for all the "honest truth" rhetoric, a racist discourse is being employed. Fascinating analysis here that you could investigate further in copies of politicians' speeches.

In Other Words

Enjoy the spectacle, and, if you're old enough, VOTE! (People died so you could...)


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