Mary Louise Kelly, the host of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” hosted a master class on how to handle gaslighters when she interviewed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about Ukraine.
In just a 53-second recording, Kelly gives a master class how to confront interviewees whose purpose is to misinform, and she also refused to be used as a conduit for that misinformation. Even if you aren’t a journalist, Kelly shows how to handle manipulative people, regardless of where you encounter them.
Don’t Let Them Set The Agenda
In an interview with Rachel Martin, Kelly said Pompeo “didn’t want to field a lot of questions on Ukraine.” Kelly said on air that the previous evening Pompeo’s staff had agreed that Kelly and Pompeo would speak on Iran and Ukraine, after Pompeo said he never agreed to it. Pompeo did what seasoned and trained interviewees do when they want to avoid a question — they change the topic and talk about how great things are going in another area. Kelly didn’t let Pompeo steer the ship. She gets the interview back on track by again simply bringing up the topic that Kelly is avoiding.
Stay Calm No Matter What
Kelly stays completely calm with Pompeo, even as he raises his voice and starts becoming more verbally forceful. Kelly stands her ground. She does this calmly and assertively. Similar to how you handle a toddler having a temper tantrum. You never let them see you sweat. Intimidation is the name of the game for some interviewees. Refuse to back down.
Find The Time to Ask
Kelly only had ten minutes to speak with Pompeo, and she made sure that she not only discussed Iran, but also was able to ask about Ukraine. Listen to the five-minute interview snip. Kelly keeps the interview moving, and doesn’t let Pompeo obfuscate or go off on tangents. Keeping an interview succinct and efficient reduces the chances that a journalist is taken on a ride of purposefully confusing statements.
Don’t Let Them Talk Over You
One of the other tactics gaslighters use is to continue talking over you to the point where you naturally back down. They also have to have the last word. It is human nature to stop talking when someone talks over you. However, once you know this is a tactic of gaslighters, you will be less likely to let someone “steamroll” you. Continue saying what you were saying, even if they try to talk over you. Don’t back down.
Present Facts Repeatedly
Come armed with facts when interviewing gaslighters. They will most certainly spout misinformation. Kelly had quotes and names. Do your research. The more facts you know about a person and their behavior, the better armed you will be when your credibility is questioned. Bring proof of the facts, whether it is official documents or video. Be prepared to be told that the evidence you have is not real. If you can safely and ethically provide a source for those documents, do so. When Pompeo tries to steer Kelly off-track and undermine her credibility by telling her he doesn’t know what “unnamed sources you’re referring to,” Kelly quickly responds with a title and a name — senior adviser Michael McKinley, “who testified under oath.”
Ask Them For Proof
When a gaslighter states that they have said nothing but kind or nice things, or in Pompeo states, “I’ve defended every single person on this team,” Kelly quickly responds, “Can you point me towards your remarks where you have defended Marie Yovanovitch?” It’s a calm, reasonable question — and one which Pompeo can’t answer.
Don’t Let Them Play The Martyr
Part of gaslighters’ M.O. in interviews is to make it appear that the journalist was bullying them. They are more than happy to play the martyr in order to distract from their behavior. See Trump’s tweets for evidence of how he plays the martyr with Democrats and with the press. Kelly doesn’t let Pompeo play this role. She calmly asks him for any statements he has made that illustrates that he has defended Marie Yovanovitch. It’s a question without any “bullying” agenda. Kelly, in essence, was saying, “Did I miss something? If I did, please let me know.” The fact that she was asking in earnest makes it harder for Pompeo to play the martyr. Earlier in the interview, Kelly even gives Pompeo a second chance to correct himself by stating, “I just want to give you another opportunity to answer this…” This is a brilliant thing to say to a gaslighter, as you are letting them know that you know they are not being truthful and that they, and they alone, are making the clear choice to be untruthful.
Call Out Lies
Gaslighters will announce on-air that they never agreed to speak on a subject, in order to make you look unreasonable. And that is exactly what Pompeo said on air — that he never agreed to speak on Ukraine, only Iran. Kelly swiftly responded, “I confirmed with your staff last night that I would talk about Iran and Ukraine.” Through this statement, Kelly is not only calling Pompeo out on a falsehood, but she is also confirming that she has witnesses to the fact that either Pompeo is lying, or his staff is not doing their due diligence. Either option doesn’t look good for Pompeo.
By keeping interviews on track and arming yourself with facts, gaslighters have less of a chance to manipulate and change the narrative. Stand your ground in a calm and assertive manner, such as Kelly did. Know your subject matter, and provide evidence of facts. Most importantly, know the manipulation tactics gaslighters use so you come prepared.