In his socio-linguistic analysis of media language, Allan Bell (1991, The Language of News Media), in examining the Production of News Language, notes that ‘News is seldom a solo performance. News media offer the classic case of language produced by multiple parties. Media audiences are large and multilayered, ranging from the interviewer, whom the newsmaker addresses face to face, to the absentee mass audience, which itself consists of different segments’. In the video below of an interchange between Irish Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton, and host of his own show, Vincent Brown, we can see two combative performers each seeking to force their own formulation upon a supposed quote from Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore, to the effect that the coalition government wouldn’t make any changes to budgetary measures that were previously enacted by Fianna Fáil during the Labour Party’s first year in office.
During the exchange, which lasts for some minutes, Brown presses Burton hard for a clear answer and certainly doesn’t let her away with avoiding the question of what Eamon Gilmore actually said. In his tendency to speak over an interviewee as they go about making a point he does, however, allow here to raise the issue of his interviewing style, and, at least momentarily, changes the formulation from one of a question needing address to one of a guest on Brown’s show being harangued. Perhaps Brown’s background as a lawyer tends to make him want to appear to have ‘won’ an argument rather than facilitating the flow of conversation, but this style does appeal to many in Brown’s audience who see his approach as admirable. In the end we get a series of responses from Burton that might be categorised as avoiding the question but we are also possibly left with a choice to be made between protagonists.
Burton then goes on to accuse Brown as regarding employment for people who are not working as ‘a joke’, and Brown seems, genuinely or otherwise, to be puzzled by the accusation. In raising the issue of unemployment, Burton has again sought to engage in formulation, perhaps this time also with the audience of Labour Party supporters in mind, and seeks to gain the high moral ground from Brown.
Brown then tries to bring in Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins but the heated interchange with Burton continues with Brown displaying his usual exasperation with another troublesome guest. He sarcastically repeats Burton’s ‘Let’s be honest’ remark and accuses her of deliberately trying to confuse the issue, which is probably not too far off the mark. Having been accused of not being honest Burton then claims she is involved in the ‘politics of rebuilding this country’, again moving the focus away from the issue to which Vincent Brown doggedly sticks, what it was that Eamon Gilmore said.
Eventually Joe Higgins does get to speak and he says that in fact he was speaking to deputy Simon Coveney, who is on the other side of Burton. Again Burton engages in formulation, encouraging Higgins to ‘talk away’ and asking him if he would like to move closer to Coveney. Here the issue of etiquette becomes the focus for Burton as she alludes to apparent rudeness on the part of Higgins. During this latest interchange Brown says that there is room for the two protagonists, Burton and Higgins, in their constituency. Here Brown points to the joint absentee mass audience Higgins and Burton are addressing, potential voters in their constituency.
However, Brown is also conscious of his own audience and tends to adopt the mantle of defender of the poor and marginalised and he would be a rigorous interrogator of a government minister in the context of cutbacks to services. So we have the host of the discussion playing to his own audience and we have the guests on his show speaking with their audience or constituency in mind. In this regard the proceedings are as much about the various participants addressing their own audiences as they are about any exchange of ideas. Issues of style and ego perhaps have a part to play too.