Ambush interviews. Or why is there a reporter lurking outside the bathroom door?

Jan 27, 2023

You’ve seen them on TV news. You’ve even seen them in movies and TV shows with scenes depicting the news biz. A reporter or gaggle of reporters lies in wait for someone to emerge from their office or car, or maybe even the bathroom. And bam! Reporters shout questions, point TV cameras and microphones. Welcome to the ambush interview. A staple of the American news media repertoire, ambush interviews exist for two basic reasons: Journalists couldn’t otherwise reach the person they want to interview. More often than not, it’s because ambushes make for great TV. It’s dramatic. Better yet, those ambushed often overreact (even better TV). The closest most folks will ever get to an ambush interview will be watching it on TV or the internet. Indeed, no reporter would dream of ambush interviewing someone over, say, a routine lawsuit. In other words, it’s gotta involve people in positions of high status in politics, entertainment or industry. Better yet, high-profile people in trouble for something salacious, typically involving sex and/or money. Preferably both. Now if you’re like any number of members of the U.S. Congress, you might respond to an attempted ambush interview by pretending to be talking on your cellphone. Or, if you’re like New York Rep. George Santos, you might blurt out whatever fabulist bit of nonsense comes to mind. Of course, if you’re capable of feeling shame or are otherwise not utterly pathological, you might want to consider some other possible ways of reacting. First, you can ignore reporter, keep walking. Too often this devolves into the subject ducking his head and fast-walking, or even running, from the reporter, who, most often will stick with him, firing non-stop questions, until he escapes into his building or car. (Can you tell I’m not a big fan of this reaction?) Still, if the would-be ambush interview involves litigation or other circumstances where your silence is the best course of action, zipping it and walking (calmly) away may indeed be the best choice. And if you must use your cellphone as a prop, it’s probably best to at least actually be on a phone call. Another choice is to stop and talk. This can mean you have an impromptu interview in a parking lot or just outside the men’s room. This doesn’t mean you won’t be peppered with questions. But you won’t appear to be fleeing the reporter. You can also use this opportunity not to be interviewed but to schedule an interview at a time and place of your liking. If you go this route, stop and tell the reporter you’d be happy to give him/her an interview. But if the reporter sincerely wants to talk with you, he/she will turn off the camera and come inside. Or offer to schedule an interview at another time/date. This also gives you time to settle down, collect your thoughts. And it helps disarm the reporter.