I spent this afternoon at a protest CREDO organized outside the NRA’s DC office. It seemed only appropriate.
As the protest ended, a woman with a Flipcam approached me, hastily identified herself as being with Breitbart TV, and then launched into a few interview questions designed to provoke an outraged-liberal reaction (“do you really believe only police officers should be allowed to carry firearms?” “what about the shooting in Oregon last week that was stopped by a citizen carrying a firearm? Couldn’t armed citizens have saved those children’s lives?”).
I’m proudly confident my interview won’t appear on any of the Breitbart websites. I didn’t give the “reporter” what she was looking for. As I walked away from the interaction, I noticed someone in an outright shouting match with another “reporter” from Newsbuster/Media Research Center. (“I didn’t say that! Stop twisting my words!”)
As a public service of sorts, I thought I’d outline the steps you should take when dealing with a camera-wielding conservative jackass:
1. Stay calm. The goal of a rightwing interviewer is to get some material that reinforces their biases about liberals. You’re supposed to be an angry radical America-hater who doesn’t understand the constitution. Don’t give them that material. Use a calm voice and patiently explain what motivated you to attend the protest today. This is neither a debate nor an argument that you can win. You win the interaction by eating up their time while giving them no useable material.
2. Stay on message. This is media training 101, I know. But it’s even more important here. My first answer to the Brietbartian was “I think it’s time we had sensible gun regulations in this country. I think we should regulate guns as much as we regulate Sudafed.” Every other answer circled back to this same Sudafed point. I stayed polite about it, so she wouldn’t just give up and find an easier mark. But I didn’t take any of the bait she laid out for me either. We attend protests because any reasonable person ought to be outraged at the state of society. When confronted by rightwing attack-media, be that reasonable person. It makes you utterly unfilmable.
3. The Interview Ends When You Want It To End. Around the eighth question, I could see that she was getting frustrated and was trying to push harder. Most of the other protesters had already dispersed. So as she started in with another don’t-you-think hypothetical, I politely replied “that’s all the time I’ve got, it was nice talking to you,” then turned and walked away. Again, the point here is to control the terms of the engagement while giving them no good material to splice later on.
You use similar tools when interacting with real reporters, of course. But the difference is that, when engaging with real reporters, both sides are acting in good faith. The real reporter wants to know what the story is, and wants clips that help to animate this story. Anger can be a helpful visual. A Breitbart/O’Keefe/MRC “journalist” already knows what the story is (liberals are terrible stupid hypocrites who must be prevented from endangering our freedoms!). So you deny them the visual instead. Occupy them, remain pleasant, act reasonable, and then politely finish the interview whenever you like.
It won’t stop the hate-mongers, but it’ll at least deny them some pageviews. That’s a small victory, and sometimes that’s all we can hope for.