Iron Man run off by reporter

Robert Downey Jr.  was talking up the new Avengers movie in London when his TV interviewer suddenly started asking him questions about his past drug use, his politics, and his father. Downey eventually took offense, shed his microphone, and left. “It was getting a little Diane Sawyer and you’re kind of a schmuck,” he said to his interviewer on the way out the door.

The Downey interview showcases the ever-shifting boundaries between reporters and the people they interview. Downey went in to the interview with the understanding that he was there to promote his new movie, while the reporter decided to use his allotted time for something more. Where should the line be drawn?

Both Downey and Krishnan Guru-Murthy of Britain’s Channel 4 seemed to be feeling their way during the course of the interview. As Guru-Murthy slowly moves from questions about Iron Man to questions about Downey, the reporter volunteers: “I don’t want to pry, so if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine.”

Downey keeps talking, but as the personal questions keep coming he realizes that the interview is veering far from his comfort zone. “Are we promoting a movie?” he asks.

The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr, a movie reviewer who has conducted numerous star interviews himself, said he sympathizes with both actor and interviewer. “There is nothing more dispiriting to a reporter than feeling that he or she is part of a big studio’s marketing apparatus, there simply to convey the awesomeness of the latest profit-seeking missile,” Burr writes in his column. “It’s not just my job to try to take one of these promo junket Q&As into wider territory, it’s my duty to the reader.”

Yet Burr also acknowledges the obvious: movie promotion interviews are a part of the studio’s marketing apparatus. “A nice way to describe a movie PR interview is as a quid pro quo between studio and news outlet,” Burr said. “A less nice way is to acknowledge that we’re all for sale.”

Reporting boundaries are also shifting outside of Hollywood. On Beacon Hill, for example, it’s rare to do an interview anymore without any ground rules. In my experience, the Baker administration’s PR apparatus always wants to know in advance what the reporter is going to ask about and then insists that the interview be conducted “on background,” with the proviso that a carefully crafted on-the-record statement can be issued later.

Business officials are even more cautious. Their public relations people often ask reporters for a list of the questions that are going to be asked during the interview. The request is typically characterized as a way to make sure the person being interviewed is prepared, but in reality it’s all about setting boundaries.




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