Exploring the genre and style of the Political Interview - Paxman and Galloway interview

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Exploring the genre and style of the Political Interview


Politics is an area in society which is accepted as an important aspect of our lives. It governs our country and, as a result, affects how we conduct our everyday affairs. Since the commercial availability of television, politicians have had the opportunity to express party views, promote their manifesto and justify controversial actions. Live interviews have allowed the nation to put forward questions they want answered, significantly progressing the basis on who we decide to vote for to govern our country. These interviews are perhaps most notable on Newsnight, hosted by Jeremy Paxman. Paxman became a presenter of  in 1989 and has since been a pioneer in the interrogative style used to unnerve his interviewees.

This topic is of particular interest due to the nature of the interaction between a representative of the audience (the interviewer) and the politician. In many cases, it is evident that politicians adopt a tactful stance when answering questions in order to prevent perceptions and retain popularity. Interviews often gain entertainment value when questions are put forward that place the interviewee in a difficult stance, and more so when an attempt is made to divert the topic to suit the interviewees position. This is a typical method used in order to gain control of conversation, and power struggles for the ownership of a conversation are regularly detectable.

Studying this topic will allow an analysis of the interviews to be made. This can help determine whether language used conforms to the ideas of theorists such as Tannen, who states that, for men, the world is a competitive place in which conversation and speech must be used to build status or "gain the upper hand". Trudgill’s theories can also be explored; in particular, his belief that men would often use a low prestige pronunciation - thereby seeking covert prestige by appearing “tough” or “down to earth”.


Both Paxman and the political interviewees will display typical male speech to gain dominance and authority over the conversation.


The aims will be to:

  • Investigate how ‘male’ language is used to assert ownership of a conversation
  • Compare my findings with research on male gender language from theorists such as Tannen and Trudgill.


 For this investigation, secondary source data was gained in the form of two individual transcripts of Newsnight interviews between Paxman and George Galloway and Theresa May. These were obtained from the internet as opposed to being recorded from live programmes for numerous reasons. Firstly, the recording of transcripts is time consuming, thus meaning it would not have been viable to collect primary data from live programmes. Researching readily available transcripts allowed a range of interviews to be read, meaning the most linguistically interesting extracts could be used. Five possible transcripts were collected, and of that, two were chosen for further analysis. A male politician and female politician were used in order to gauge differences, if any, in the language style used, and whether this had a profound effect on the effectiveness of dominance in conversation. Had two male politicians been selected, it would have been hard to conclude that the language used was typically male as there would be no reference for comparison. Despite the fact that only qualitative data will be used, the analysis that can be made from these sources will be sufficient in meeting the aims and proving or disproving the hypothesis. Quantitative data is largely irrelevant for this investigation.

To ensure validity, the transcripts have all been sourced from the reputable news websites. The BBC is the producer of Newsnight, so there is little chance of alteration or manipulation of the transcripts to portray a subjective view.  The BBC is also fairly reputable in their political neutrality. This cannot be said for The Telegraph, where Theresa May’s transcript was sourced. However, both Theresa May and The Telegraph hold conservative views and therefore alteration is also unlikely.

In terms of the ethicality of the data collected, the participants, being Jeremy Paxman and the three politicians, would have been aware that they were being filmed and broadcasted. Therefore, their consent would have been given at the time they were recorded and quoting extracts from the transcript will be ethical.

In order to satisfy my aims, I will explore a variety of qualities that make up the linguistic framework such as the interactional, grammatical, lexic-semantic, syntactical and phonological features.


The first data extract is from a Newsnight interview between Jeremy Paxman and George Galloway on the 5th May 2005. The interview was conducted shortly after George Galloway gained a seat for the left wing political party “Respect” in Bethnal Green and Bow, replacing Labour MP, Oona King. Paxman initiates conversation by addressing the audience with the clause “We’re now joined from his count in Bethnal Green and Bow by George Galloway”. The contraction ‘we’re’ provides unity and sense of cohesion between the interviewer and audience, perhaps done so in order to entice prejudicial bias. The question “are you proud of having got rid of the very few black women Parliament” is then asked. The adjective ‘proud’ infers a sense of pleasure or satisfaction over a particular action, which Galloway dismisses immediately with the simple sentence “What a preposterous question”. This matter of fact statement allows Galloway to gain ‘high ground’ as it addresses the absurdity of what is essentially an accusation of racism. As a result, a role reversal can be seen.

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Galloway uses the personal pronoun ‘you’ to pose a question towards Paxman. This is perhaps the first clear evidence of a battle of ownership of the conversation and conforms to aspects of Tannen’s theory. She argues that conversation for most men is a primary means to preserve independence, and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order, opting for a ‘report’ stance as opposed to a females ‘rapport’ stance.  A battle for social hierarchy can be seen when Paxman avoids answering the question, with the ironic and somewhat hypocritical reply “You’re not answering that one?”.  According to Tannen, competition ...

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***** 5 stars This is an excellent investigation. Clearly written and logically structured, it gives a very thorough answer to the question. Close and accurate analysis of language and well chosen quotes with references to other appropriate theories throughout make this a very convincing piece of research.