You may well remember Krishnan Guru Murphy as the Channel 4 anchor who made the headlines back in 2013 when he unimaginatively pushed Tarantino’s buttons and wound up getting his ‘butt shut down’¹. Well yesterday Murphy was back to his old tricks at the Avengers: Age of Ultron press junket where he superficially fished into Robert Downey Junior’s past history of drugs and prison time² in order to try and increase his channel’s ratings. The sad thing is of course that he succeeded. The interview was messy and resulted in Downey walking out on Murphy and we were all drawn to the resulting car crash of an interview like vultures are to a rotting corpse.
The reason I’m writing an article on the debacle and giving him the tiny extra smidgen of attention is because I think the interview demonstrates an awful lot of what is wrong with journalism today. We could give Murphy the benefit of the doubt back when he wound up Tarantino. It was clear that he was trying to get a reaction but we could put it down to a gross misjudgement and hoped that he would learn from the experience. The second time around though makes it crystal clear that he is perfectly comfortable in destroying his credibility in order to gain attention, views and a few more minutes in the spotlight again.
It seems to me that there are three broadly defined groups of interviewers out there. Firstly we have the types who ask fluff questions such as “what’s it like to kiss so-and-so” and “what designer dressed you on this particular occasion” – unfortunately these questions have a tendency to be directed at women and only really serve to increase the show’s ratings. The second type is the interviewer who goes into an interview planning on asking difficult questions in order to stir up some sort of reaction and thus increase their ratings – our friend Mr Murphy belongs to this category. And thirdly there is the journalist who actually demonstrates insight and who earns the opportunity to ask difficult questions throughout the course of the interview through using research, intelligence and tact. These types are able to judge when to pull back and when to push a little harder, and what’s key is that they respect their subject and the nature of the interview. In other words they wouldn’t turn up at an Avengers’ press junket and ask unrelated and misguided questions about a star’s past, just like they wouldn’t turn up to a retrospective interview about an actor’s body of work and ask fluff questions about kissing and perfume.
The frustrating thing about Murphy’s approach is that it purports to be a respectable form of journalism where he is trying to raise an interview from a junket about a superhero movie into a discussion about complex subject matters. The key problem here being of course that that isn’t what a junket is all about, as Tarantino explicitly told Murphy back in 2003 it is an advert for the movie, plain and simple. Now if Robert Downey Junior had a past history of dressing up in a metal suit, flying around cities and saving the world from robotic overlords then of course Murphy could tactfully probe into the similarities between actor and character, but as far as I know Downey doesn’t yet own a real Iron Man suit.
Perhaps everything I have said here is rather obvious, but the source of my frustration comes from being an independent journalist who knows of many great interviewers who run their own sites and blogs. These are people who have proven time and time again that they can respect the rules of the game, that they know what is expected and acceptable at a press junket and that they are also capable of pushing hard when necessary and exploring difficult areas when the subject is willing and able to go to said areas. It’s very hard to sit back and watch all of these interviewers who ask inane fluff questions and who stumble around in interviews, insulting the subject and repulsing the viewer in a bid to get larger ratings. Now I’m not claiming to be a better interviewer than Murphy or some of these other interviewers I describe, I would like to think I have a level of skill but that is for others to decide and not for me to proclaim. I am referring to the great swathes of bloggers and writers out there who clearly have a passion for the films that are being discussed, who have already proven themselves countless times and yet who have to constantly fight hard for each and every opportunity out there. I’m calling on distributors and publicists to think a little more about who they want interviewing these stars.
It’s a tough job to be a blogger or indie reviewer at the moment. To hideously paraphrase Mark Kermode in his book Hatchet Job he talks broadly about the difference between established and trained journalists and bloggers as being an issue of trust, of knowing where the established journalist has come from and what his background is. Kermode describes the professional journalist as having a degree of reliability because he is staking his reputation on each review and interview he produces. But I disagree with him on a fundamental point here. It’s the indie journalist who risks everything with the words he or she writes. Unlike an established writer who can take a few blows because of their name and the internationally famous publication which backs them, the indie journalist has no protection, has nothing behind them to validate what they say. They have to earn their respect and reputation based on absolutely nothing but the words which they write, and one lapse of judgement can be catastrophic for their name and people’s opinions of their critical faculties.
The reason I mention all of this is because I think it is time that independent journalists be given increased opportunities. They have built a reputation out of nothing and have the passion for film to actually ask engaging questions. I know I sound a little idealistic, but it isn’t all that hard for big companies to look for the talent that’s around and hire them on occasion to conduct their interviews for them. Murphy may be a familiar face by now and he certainly is contributing to Channel 4’s ratings but what the channel gains in views it steadily looses in respect, and frankly what is a publication or channel which can’t command respect from its viewers. Sticking with guys like Murphy may seem like the simplest way to draw viewers in, but imagine what a passionate and respectful interviewer who had their entire reputation at stake could have got out of Downey yesterday.
So what do you think? Do you share my opinions or do you support Murphy’s techniques? Whatever your opinion is I want to hear it the comment section below!