Side-stepping the question
It's the broadcast equivalent of being beaten over the head with a very heavy economics manual. Repeatedly. After a while it becomes a tad wearing. You duck and weave, to try to avoid the crashing blow, but back comes the manual with an inevitable thud. And there's Gordon Brown wielding it relentlessly. He'd like you to know that inflation and interest rates are at a low level in this country. And the economy's stable. And as luck would have it we're in a very good position to withstand any global economic downturn. Hold on, what was the precise question again? He doesn't care - thud, here's his answer.
The interview that Jon Sopel conducted with the prime minister for the Politics Show this weekend addressed the economy, street crime, welfare reform and Europe among other topics.
The questions were thoughtful and serious and so were the answers. But any resemblance between the two was entirely coincidental.
Instead the interview became a traditional Two Ronnies sketch in a modern setting: prime minister answers his own question, again and again, with no comedic results whatsoever. But maddening though it is for Jon and the production team - hours of finely-honed questions battered into submission by the weighty manual - can you actually blame Gordon Brown for playing the straight man? In short, no.
Our job is to analyse and test and hold to account. But it's not his, so why should he play our game? Why play mouse to our cat when he can sidestep the traps and instead tell the viewers directly what he feels they need to hear?
He made absolutely sure he got his message across. The economy's in safe hands. And so are our streets. And British sovereignty. While the media generally hails gloom and recession round every corner - failure, disaster: great story! - politicians deal in triumphs at every turn. No wonder, as Mr Brown told us, being prime minister "is the best job in the world".
Luckily for us, non-answers and side-stepping can still make for an interesting interview and Jon did a fine job trying to nail the proverbial jelly to the wall (no offence, prime minister).
Let's be clear: we are absolutely committed to the in-depth extensive interview - and Gordon Brown's welcome to come on again. But if the long-form exchange is going to offer more than a short-form interview on an extended loop, then we might need to re-think how we get answers to the actual questions we (repeatedly) put. That's our job and it matters, as our viewers made clear from their responses. The question is how to achieve it. A clunking fist is, I fear, not an option.