Discursive Strategies in Interviews

A Case Study of “Larry King Live”

Magisterarbeit, 2011

73 Seiten


Table of Contents

List of Tables & Figures

1. Introduction

2. Aim and Scope

3. Framework
3.1. About Larry King and the Show
3.2. Previous Work
3.3. Terminology
3.4. Question Options

4. Material and Method

5. Analysis and Results
5.1. Determining the Genre of the Larry King Live Shows
5.1.1. The Host ’ s Tasks and Routines
5.1.2. Conversational versus Institutional Characteristics
5.1.3. Intermediate Results
5.2. Indications for Discursive Strategies
5.2.1. Functional Analysis Correlative Markers Coordinating Conjunctions a.k.a. FANBOYS
5.2.2. Non-Functional Analysis

6. Conclusion

7. References

List of Tables & Figures

Table 1: Type-Token-Composition of the Corpus Data

Table 2: Distribution of correlative conjunctions

Table 3: Distribution of Coordinating Conjunctions

Table 4: Distribution of punctuation among the items why and because

Figure 1: Relative frequencies of coordinating conjunctions

Figure 2: Frequency distribution of the discourse marker and

Figure 3: Frequency distribution of the discourse marker but

Figure 4: Frequency distribution of the discourse marker so

Figure 5: Distribution of punctuation among the items why and because

1. Introduction

People are interviewed to tell stories or deliver information that cannot be observed directly for numerous reasons. The question is not whether that information is more valid or more meaningful when either observed or reported, it is rather a fact that not everything can be observed and, consequently, has to be reported. For example, a specific behavior at a specific time in the past or even in the future, a mood, an intention or feelings and emotions cannot be observed, technically speaking. For this reason, people must be questioned about these things so that they can describe them from their point of view or generally anything. In other words, by interviewing a person we try to adopt that person’s perspective i.e. we want that person to respond in his or her own words and to express their own personal perspectives.

What is more, there is information a person might not want to share on his or her free will. This information can be of any origin, e.g. traumatic events, marital difficulties, a mental state, or even banal problems like weight issues. The question is; how do we elicit this specific, sensitive information? Further, if we decide to do so, how do we do it without defecting the interviewee? How do we know how far we can go? There are strategies to get to this very specific information. These strategies underlie certain rules and regularities, depending on what kind of interview is done. Hence, it is the responsibility of the interviewer to provide an environment in which the interviewee is free to respond honestly, comfortably and accurate to these questions. In other words, the “quality of the information obtained during an interview is largely dependent on the interviewee” (Patton 2002: 341). Among these, Larry King is said to be one of the first in the field. Many celebrities and other famous people credited King’s shows to be a good place to go and state an opinion1.

Moreover, Patton (2002) concludes that an interviewer who is not interested in what his collocutor has to say cannot be a good interviewer. As a consequence, being a good interviewer means showing interest in what your counterpart has to tell you. It will be shown whether Larry King follows this rough-and-ready rule or not. In addition, strategies within discourse will be identified, presented and analyzed. Since the Larry King Live shows are time-framed interviews under special conditions, the main focus of the analysis will be the discourse coherence, i.e. how is discourse structured and especially how is discourse held together? Regarding this, the interesting part is how to identify this structure. Different strategies are usually also indicated by different features and signals. Another point is that these features reflect different classes of questions. In a first step, these classes will be described and their purpose is going to be examined based on an earlier study by Patton (2002). After that, possible ways of sequencing these questions will be discussed concerning the appropriate strategy applied. Finally, that knowledge will be applied to the Larry King Live shows and it will be shown which strategies are used by King, which are not, and, above all, what makes Larry King as special as he is said to be.

2. Aim and Scope

The aim of this study is to determine discursive strategies in interviews. To be precise, the aim is to identify, present and interpret strategies applied by Larry King in his shows. Therefore, analyzing discourse in the interview situation and finding markers, patterns and signals for the use of specific strategies are the two major tasks in this study. The latter takes up the greater part of investigation because it is the observation of signals and features that makes it possible to identify, find and interpret discursive strategies.

In scope of this study were, to a great majority, those markers and features that had been able to transfer into a formalized form. As these features share many characteristics with discourse markers, well known studies about discourse markers helped forming a theoretical framework. Since there is no general agreement among different researchers about the determination and identification of discourse markers, there is also no general definition for the term itself. As a consequence, the term ‘discourse markers’ will not be used for the features described in chapter 5, although many observable characteristics indicate a relationship. Due to the scope and complexity in the research of discourse markers, no detailed discussion is found in this study. Instead, the observations made are simply described as ‘discursive features’ or ‘observations’.

3. Framework

This chapter will provide basic information to build a common ground on which the results of the study can be discussed. First, some facts of Larry King, his life and his career as well as a description of his shows will be provided. Second, the study of linguistics is a scientific field which requires basic knowledge about specific, technical terms. Although one might have heard many of these terms, such as argumentation, discourse, interaction, and questions, it is not always clear what these words mean in the field of linguistics, i.e. how they are scientifically defined. Consequently, fundamental terms are described. Afterwards, the different types of questions are explained based on Patton’s study (2002). Eventually, in association with the distinct types of questions, an important reason for the existence of the different types of questions will be examined, viz. the idea of face threatening.

3.1. About Larry King and the Show

Biographic survey

Larry King was born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger on November 19, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. He acquired the name Larry King when he got told that Zeiger sounded too ethnic and was hard to remember. The name King had actually been an inspiration of a store named ‘King’s Wholesale Liquor’.

His parents, Edward Zeiger and Jennie Gitlitz, were Jewish immigrants. His father, a bar owner, died at the age of 44 of a heart disease when Larry was nine years old. His mother, a garment worker, had to live on welfare to be able to support Larry and his younger brother Marty. Moreover, Larry struggled with his father’s death, so that he lost interest in education and barely scraped through high school. Afterwards, in his 20s, he went to support his mother by working as a mail clerk. From his early childhood, Larry had dreamed of a career in radio, which made him pound New York’s radio stations, without success. His radio career started in 1960 when he debuted with his first program after he met with a CBS announcer who told him to seek his chance in Florida. In the following decade he developed his career adding a newspaper column to his radio and television routines.

King, however, experienced a heavy backlash in the early 1970s when he was charged with grand larceny by a former financier, which consequently cost him his radio, television and newspaper engagements. During this time he was not only indebted but his image was also affected by this incident. Nevertheless, by the end of the 1970s the issue was dead and buried, and Larry was slowly able to rebuild his career. This, then, resulted in The Larry King Show’s national kickoff, the first nationwide call-in radio show by then. During this time King interviewed writers, actors, athletes, and any other kind of celebrity and famous person. The most impressive symbol for the dimension of his show’s influence was when billionaire Ross Perot announced his presidential candidacy live on air. Then, in 1985, King started hosting his show on CNN. Seven years later, in the 1992 election, King’s show functioned as platform for candidates, climaxing in 1993 when Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot debated the controversial North American Free Trade Agreement which was, as a consequence, considered in Congress. That single show drew the largest audience CNN ever experienced for a regularly scheduled program with a number of 20 million spectators. Since this election, King’s show was used by candidates regularly to communicate their program to the population.

In June 2010, Larry King announced the end of his engagement as show host of the Larry King Live show to spend more time with his family. On a Thursday, December 16 in 2010, he hosted the final episode of his CNN talk show Larry King Live. Among the guests on set and by way of satellite was Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, who announced Thursday as official Larry King Day in California as a special honor. During the 25 years of King’s television career, he recorded more than 6,000 shows and earned an Emmy, two Peabody Awards plus ten Cable ACE Awards. Moreover, King has been accommodated to five of America’s leading broadcasting halls of fame. Larry King Live continuously made headlines with high-profile guests of all sorts. When asking King what the most frequently asked question is, his answer is Why. It will be reviewed if this is reflected in his interviews.


As mentioned earlier, the common opinion is that Larry King’s shows were always a safe and comfortable place to go and state oneself’s opinion, views and thoughts. In this section, the setting, i.e. the physical environment of the CNN studio in Washington is described. To begin with, Larry King and his guest usually sit on a table towards each other. To be precise, their position is not exactly face-to-face, so that they can both be captured by the camera when simultaneously taped. However, most of the time either King or his guest are taped from a close-up view. While the participants are speaking, overlays as video clips or pictures can happen. The background is made of a black wall which is assembled with LED-lights, thus presenting the image of a world map. Furthermore, there are three features shown during the whole show. First, there is an image of a microphone showing the Larry King Live and CNN logos. Next, facts about the guest are shown in a small box at the bottom of the screen. These facts contain knowledge and background information about the guest. Third, a news-ticker presenting the latest news and current issues is running below that box. This news-ticker is not associated with the guest.

3.2. Previous Work

When speaking of an interview it is not always clear what an interview’s goal is in detail. According to Blum-Kulka (1983: 146), gathering new information from the interviewee is at premium. In other words, the interviewer’s premium task is to get the interviewee to state his or her opinion “in a manner that is quotable”. Consequently, and not surprisingly, the interviewer’s principal speech act are requests for information (cf. Macaulay 1996: 491). Elaborating on this idea, the interviewer’s main motive can be declared as getting the interviewee “to respond to highly face threatening requests” (Macaulay 1996: 497). From a semantic and pragmatic point of view, questioning and answering is the basis of every social practice in interviewing (cf. Lauerbach 2007: 1393).

Generally, there is a common consensus that the Larry King shows were a safe and comfortable place for guests to come and say what they intended to say. Conversations between Larry King and his guests are said to be unhurried, which leads to critics sometimes calling his questions too soft. Clayman and Heritage (2002: 340f.), thus, place interviews of that kind in what they call the “soft and feel-good genre” and oppose it to the traditional “‘heavyweight’ adversarial news or current affairs interview”. In other words, Larry King was said to “meet with his interviewee on a fairly equal basis” (Lauerbach 2007: 1339). In addition, there is more than just these two extremes described by Clayman and Heritage on the interview continuum. Patton (2002) names three types of interviews, and, applying his approach to the Larry King Live shows, the informal conversational interview approach will be the basis of this study. Lauerbach (2007), within the framework of argumentation theory, discourse analysis and Goffman’s model of frames and footings, showed that King did that by collaboratively forming arguments together with the interviewee rather than confronting the guest with the range of the public opinion (cf. 1388). The study handled the question whether argumentative elements should be kept out of political interviews in “soft and feel-good genres” like talk shows. Hence, Larry King was not among today’s squad of “gotcha journalists”. Instead, his strategy was rather of an information-seeking approach.

Regarding the characteristics of the observed features, research in the field of discourse markers had to be reviewed. Among that, studies by Schiffrin (1987), Blakemore (1987, 1992), Fraser (1987, 1990, 1999) and Quirk et al. (1985) must be mentioned. Following Schiffrin’s approach (1987), discursive markers have a conjunctive function, i.e. they manage to keep the discourse together and virtually “serve as a kind of discursive glue” (cf. Fraser 1990: 385). Further, these discursive connectives can be divided into coordinating conjunctions (e.g. for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so; memorable by the mnemonic acronym FANBOYS) on the one and correlative conjunctions (e.g. either ... or, whether ... or, not only ... but, neither ... nor) on the other hand. The former are conjunctions that join at least two items possessing equal value on the syntactic level, such as words or sentences. The latter, by contrast, cooperate as conjunctional pairs to coordinate contextual items.

However, not every discourse marker serves the same function. They are insofar similar as they help structuring discourse clusters, but they do so on distinct levels, i.e. there are markers of ideational structure and markers of pragmatic structure. Distinguishing between an ideational and a pragmatic structure is a common feature of current discourse coherence theories (cf. Redeker 1990: 379). According to Redeker (1990), markers of ideational structure can be separated into three classes. The first ones are simple connectives, e.g. including the subordinator that or the relative pronoun who. Second, there are semantically rich connectives, defined as “conjunctions and adverbial connectives that specify a semantic relation” (Redeker 1990: 372). Examples are the adversative conjunction but, question words like how and why, temporal connectives like when and while, and causal conjunctions like because and so. Finally, other temporal adverbials like now and then build the last class, but only when specifying the “eventtime referred to in the current utterance in relation to that of the preceding one” (Redeker 1990: 372). The most frequent semantic connective in the data is but.

Referring to Redeker (1990), markers of pragmatic structure are separated into three classes as well. The first one describes the pragmatic use of conjunctions. By definition, this is the case if the “semantic relation between the conjoined utterances [does] not correspond to the propositional meaning of the conjunction” (Redeker 1990: 372). The most frequent pragmatic connectives in the data are and and so. Another very common conjunction to signal a pragmatic relation is because. This is insofar interesting as it can be interpreted as asking why just another way. The second class of pragmatic markers are interjections, such as the utterance-initial use of oh or well and the utterance-final use of okay or right? The latter expressions serve the primary function of eliciting acknowledgment from the interviewee (cf. Redeker 1990: 374). The last class consists of what Redeker calls comment clauses. The most frequent comments found in the data are I mean and In other words.

3.3. Terminology

Before going into a detailed explanation of the data, how it was handled and what was looked up, moreover to avoid any contradictions, it is inevitable to clarify some of the basic terms that will be used often throughout the present study.


In the Larry King Live show, as in talk shows categorically, it comes to arguments regularly. The reason lies in a number of fundamental features which the genre shares with rather institutional interaction such as political news interviews or current affairs expert interviews. To start with, all interviews are structured as question-answer sequences. Furthermore, the role distribution is the same in each interview, with the interviewer being a representative of the media organization and an appropriate guest. Further is the role-specific distribution of asking and answering between the participants the same. Fourthly, every interview is produced for a third party, viz. the overhearing and onlooking audience. Fifthly, interviewers control the interaction by introducing the participants, setting the agenda and steering the conversation. Eventually, the interviewees are, in a way, forced to answer the questions due to the institutional character of the show, i.e. due to the purpose of providing information to an audience (cf. Lauerbach 2007: 1392f.). Referring to the term ‘infotainment’2, this is simply caused by the fact that the host often tries, or has to try, to push for information which the guest might not intentionally be willing to reveal (cf. Ilie 1999: 986).

Before analyzing arguments in the data, however, argumentation must be determined as discourse practice. Argumentation is, fundamentally, a dialogue discourse practice realizing claim and challenge and claim and counterclaim in dialogic form (cf. Lauerbach 2007: 1390). Furthermore, “rational argumentation [...] is a device for the construction of socially shared, consensual knowledge” (Lauerbach 2007: 1390).

In the context of analyzing the argumentative orientation of questions and their responses in talk shows, Ilie (1999) suggests an important distinction between their argument- eliciting function and their argumentative function, as she calls it. The argument-eliciting function focuses on the question-answer sequence, whereas the argumentative function focuses on the question-response sequence. Furthermore, while the argument-eliciting function does not necessarily include the addresser’s personal commitment to a specific point of view, the argumentative function is based on the addresser’s involvement by developing, supporting and negotiating his or her arguments (cf. Ilie 1999: 986). In this study, argument-eliciting questions will be of greater importance, because they tend to be “characteristic of dialogue discourse” (Ilie 1999: 989), which is usually the case in the Larry King Live shows.

Institutional Discourse

The Oxford Dictionary refers to discourse in different ways. Defining discourse per se, the OD says it is “written or spoken communication or debate”. Moreover, accompanying an article, discourse is defined as “a formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing”. Ultimately, from a linguistic point of view the OD claims discourse is “a connected series of utterances; a text or conversation” (Oxford Dictionary Online). In other words, the concept of discourse without an article refers to language use, i.e. “a piece of text, an instance of discursive practice, and an instance of social practice” (Fairclough 1998a: 4), whereas connected to an article it refers to a “relatively discrete subset of a whole language used for specific social or institutional purposes” (McHoul 1998: 225).

Typically, discourse is classified along a continuum of conversational and institutional interaction. Furthermore, institutional discourse is typically controlled by a host or moderator, by someone who monitors and diverts the conversation by asking questions and making comments (cf. Ilie 2001: 226). Furthermore, it can be distinguished by sequences of systematic turn-taking which reflect a specific turn pre-allocation and role distribution of the participants (cf. Takagi 2008: 74). The question arises whether the conversational or the institutional features are predominant in the Larry King Live shows. Linguistically, constraints usually found in conversation are often also found in an institutional setting, while on the contrary some constraints complied with in the institutional setting are violated to allow conversational practices. However, both fields do share numerous features in talk shows, e.g. the length of speaking turns are not fixed and negotiated in advance (cf. Ilie 2001: 219). The analysis will show that the Larry King Live shows share characteristics from several points along the continuum of institutional and conversational interaction, thus placing themselves in a genre which is most likely to be called semi-institutional. This is important because linguistic strategies vary along the continuum and, consequently, influence the strategies applied by Larry King.

To start with, the main aspect is the difference between standard and nonstandard questions. To that effect, standard questions can be described as those questions that aim at requiring or expecting information, whereas all types of questions that do not primarily function as answer-eliciting or information-eliciting are referred to as nonstandard questions (cf. Ilie 1999: 979). This “distribution, the sequential occurrence, and the functions of both standard and nonstandard questions reflect the dual nature of this particular discourse type, viz. institutional and conversational” (Ilie 1999: 976). In other words, the existence of both forms of questions, including their different features, within the genre of talk shows emphasizes its semi-institutional character. The talk show genre provides a wide range of nonstandard question types. Due to their frequent co-occurrence and overlapping, non-standard-questions are, furthermore, split up into three main subcategories, namely expository questions, rhetorical questions and echo questions (cf. Ilie 1999: 979). Further segmentation is made for response elicitation. Since the same question can be asked by different motivations in different contexts they can be perceived to expose varying degrees of elicitation, namely answer-elicitation, information- elicitation, action-elicitation and mental response-elicitation (cf. Ilie 1999: 980f.). Nevertheless, after subcategorizing and segmenting all these types above, it has to be kept in mind that questions cannot be viewed at as accurately discrete linguistic units. For example, the distinct categories of information-, answer- and action-eliciting questions rather express different degrees of elicitation along a continuum. It can be concluded that, alongside this continuum, “the stronger the action-elicitation, the weaker the information- elicitation, and vice versa” (Ilie 1999: 982). Moreover, the show host, who thereby makes essential use of the institutionally given authority, mostly applies both extremes. This fact emphasizes his controlling and monitoring role throughout the discourse (cf. Takagi 2008: 85).

The Interview Genre

In the political interview, the guest is usually a politician who is involved in a current event and the interviewer asks those questions which a skeptical audience would probably ask. By contrast, the expert interview is far more cooperative, i.e. the interviewer and the interviewee, collaboratively, build a construction of knowledge which is relevant to the discussion. Finally, the celebrity interview differs from the latter in more than one aspect. First, the discussion is more regardful. Second, the guest is a celebrity who has done or suffered something newsworthy and is willing to share the experience in detail with a greater audience (cf. Lauerbach 2007: 1394). Usually, famous guests do have additional purposes to enter the stage, viz. promoting their latest book or album or raise their market value generally. Put in other words, the face behind the politician, the expert and/or the celebrity is mostly utilitarian.

However, there are further characteristics delineating the interview genre from others. By definition, an interview is “an asymmetrical discourse which privileges the interviewer and gives him or her the right to ask questions” (Macaulay 1996: 492). Generally, these interviewers have an extensive repertoire of speech acts at their disposal, such as requests for information and confirmation, rhetorical and Socratic questions, assertions, clarifications, evaluations or comments (cf. Macaulay 2001: 297).


What is a question? Questions are, in theory, “utterances that are syntactically interrogative sentences” (Ilie 1999: 979). They are typically perceived as ‘answer- eliciting’, i.e. as prompt to eliciting an answer and/or information. On a semantic level, questions can be considered “incomplete propositions, and, depending on their form [wh-, polar or alternative], they put the addressee under a constraint to complete the proposition in a particular way” (Lauerbach 2007: 1393). Bell and van Leeuwen (1994: 6-7), putting it in other words, claim that “question and answer together form one statement - one statement produced by two people. It is not one person saying one thing and the other another thing, as would be the case if the answerer had expressed disagreement instead of answering; it is two people saying one thing together”.

As a result, both creative potential in developing new ideas and manipulative power is accounted to the characteristic features of questions (cf. Bell and van Leeuwen 1994: 7). Furthermore, the rules of transcribing a question are significant to this study. It must be noted that a question mark is usually placed at the end of a sentence which is a direct question3, as in When did you want to be mayor? A full stop, by contrast, is principally used to mark the end of a sentence which expresses a statement. Nevertheless, since questioning is the core object of this study, the next chapter will provide detailed information about the different kind of questions, different ways of sequencing them, and different ways of expressing them.

3.4. Question Options

As mentioned before, one element of this study’s fundament is Patton’s (2002) approach of the informal conversational interview. As such, it “relies entirely on the spontaneous generation of questions in the natural flow of an interaction [...]. The persons being talked with may not even realize they are being interviewed” (Patton 2002: 342). However, Interviews in the Larry King Live shows do not fully rely on the spontaneous generation of questions. Instead, topics are monitored and host controlled while the way of questioning is spontaneous. In other words, Larry King is usually able to give the guest and the audience the impression of a spontaneous conversation going on while it is, at least partially, institutionally influenced. Fontana and Frey’s (2000: 652) description of the informal conversational interview, who call it “unstructured interviewing”, supports the thesis that the Larry King Live shows can be called a hybrid form of interviewing, since it not unstructured at all. Additionally, they continue that most of the questions flow from the immediate context, which is also shared by the Larry King shows. It has been said in the introduction that a good interviewer must have an interest in what the interviewee is willing to share. Applying this to the informal conversational approach, Larry King would need to able to contend with difficulties easily with his guests in a variety of contexts, to generate insights and formulate appropriate questions quickly, and make sure to structure questions in such a way that they do not enforce an interpretation in the guest and/or the audience (cf. Patton 2002: 343).

In conclusion, the informal conversational method offers certain strengths, viz. a high degree of flexibility and spontaneity as well as responsiveness to situational changes and individual variation. Furthermore, Patton (2002) concludes that there are six different types of questions that can be asked in an interview. According to him, every question asked can be accounted one or the other way to one of these classes. In turn, any of these questions can be asked on any interview and on any given topic. The following section gives a brief description of the different question options and how they can be sequenced to achieve specific goals.

Categorizing Questions

First, there is the class of Experience and Behavior Questions. They deal with “what a person does or has done [...] and aim to elicit behaviors, experiences, actions, and activities that would have been observable had the observer been present” (Patton 2002: 350). A prototypical instance is:

KING: Tell me how your day works when you're doing both shows?

In (1), King wants to know about daily routines in a specific situation from his guest. If he had been able to follow his guest through the day, he would not have had to ask, theoretically. It must be noted in this context that Patton’s study (2002) focusses on rather scientific interviews, i.e. on interviews in which data is collected, which then serves as material for further investigation. Nevertheless, the categorization can be applied to the sort of Larry King’s shows alike.

The second category is the group of Opinion and Values Questions, which are questions “aimed at understanding the cognitive and interpretive processes of people [and therefore] ask about opinions, judgements, and values - head stuff as opposed to actions and behaviors” (Patton 2002: 350). A typical is example is:


KING: What do you think of Amazon, by the way?

Responses to questions like that provide information about what someone thinks or believes. In other words, they give an insight about the interviewee’s intentions, goals or expectations. The third category of questions are Feeling Questions, such as (3):


KING: But how did you feel about your dad when you heard about the stewardess?

Such questions typically aim at eliciting emotions. In asking questions like How do you feel about... the interviewer “is looking for adjective responses” (Patton 2002: 350). Patton (2002) continues that when trying to elicit emotional responses from an interviewee and understanding them, it is important not only to ask about feelings and emotions, but also to listen for answers on a feeling-level.

Class four are Knowledge Questions. They simply “inquire about the respondent’s factual information” (Patton 2002: 350), as illustrated in:


KING: Did you know Chelsea?


King plainly asks whether his guest, Monica Lewinsky, knew Chelsea. Lewinsky’s answer is a simple No. Knowledge questions typically have a dichotomous character (cf. Patton 2002: 350). Note that dichotomous questions most unlikely encourage the interviewed person to talk. Instead, they limit expression (cf. Patton 2002: 354).

Nonetheless, we experience many dichotomous question in everyday conversation but do not recognize them as such. More likely they are unconsciously ignored and perceived as open-ended questions.

The penultimate group of questions are the Sensory Questions. They categorically ask about “what is seen, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled” (Patton 2002: 350), as their label obviously indicates. An example is:


KING: Can you hear her now? Go ahead.

Questions like that do typically occur due to technical difficulties in the Larry King Live shows.

The last type of questions are Background/Demographic Questions, which typically ask for age, education, occupation, and the like. Their intention is to identify characteristics of the interviewee (cf. Patton 2002: 351). Consequently, they do not occur as often as the previous types since most of Larry King’s guest are known in public, and so is what they do and where they come from , etc. Often, facts like those elicited by knowledge questions are presented tot he audience by Larry King already in the opening of the show, which is demonstrated by (6):


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: He was a famous TV evangelist who fell from grace. So how’s his life now? Jim Bakker joins me in Los Angeles for the entire hour, and he'll take your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE. Good evening. A great pleasure to welcome Jim Bakker back to LARRY KING LIVE. He’s got a forthcoming book coming soon called “The Refuge,” one out now called “The Coming Apocalypse.” Mr. Bakker is actively back with us. It’s always good to see him again. And later his wife, Lori Beth Bakker, will be joining us, as well. And I understand you just turned 60.

(6) illustrates how basic facts are presented even before the interview begins.While opening the show, King tells the audience the name of the guest, Jim Bakker, and that he was a famous TV evangelist who fell from grace. This implies that Bakker is not in this role anymore. Furthermore, King speaks about Bakker’s books, one which is out at the moment of the interview and one which is to be released yet. King mentions the titles of both of them as well. Additionally, he let’s the audience know that Bakker’s spouse is attending later in the show, plus that her name is Lori. Finally, King comments on Bakker just turning 60. On the contrary, a simple background or demographic question would look like:


KING: How old are you now, Jack?

Regarding the fact that responses to such questions can be somewhat short and monotonous it is advised not to sequence many questions alike.

Sequencing Questions

The choice of sequencing questions depends on the various strategies of interviewing. The choice of a strategy, in turn, depends mainly on the personal situation and environment of the interviewee. A common way to begin an interview is to ask questions about noncontroversial current behaviors, activities, or experiences (cf. Patton 2002: 352). This includes:


KING: What is your condition currently? Everything OK now?

YERBY: Everything is perfect. I still play basketball, baseball, I still run, ride my mountain bike, everything I used to do.

Yerby’s reply in (8) demonstrates that this sort of question requires relatively straightforward responses, which ideally require a minimum of interpretation and recall. In other words, they shall “encourage the respondent to talk descriptively” (Patton 2002: 352). Then, after some activities and experiences have been described by the interviewee, the interviewer can try to elicit opinions, feelings and emotions, based on whatever interpretation is made of the described activities and experiences. Getting sensitive information from people works best “once some rapport and trust have been established in the interview” (Patton 2002: 353). This means that going like a bull at a gate will most likely not encourage a person to talk about personal feelings and emotions.

Applying Question Options to the Larry King Live Shows After all the theoretical descriptions and definitions shown in the previous sections, the question arises how Larry King can push for sensitive information without defecting his guest, i.e. how can he get to the information which the guest is most likely unwilling to share in public. The main strategy is to show interest in his guest’s stories, and then elaborate on that. Since it is very likely that both Larry King and his guest will be bored by closed questions with a limited set of possible answers, I suggest that the solution is to ask what Patton (2002) calls truly open-ended questions. “A truly open-ended question does not presuppose which dimension of feeling or thought will be salient for the interviewee” (Patton 2002: 354). In other words, a truly open-ended question allows the interviewee to select from his own, full range of possible answers. A prototypical, simple but truly open-ended question is How do you feel? A question like that sets no limitation regarding the guest’s response and most probably provides a basis for further elaboration in any direction.

Further, it has been mentioned before that the interviewer, Larry King, has a responsibility towards the interviewee, the show guest. The problem is to estimate how far to go for sensitive information. Patton (2002: 405) describes that his interviews sometimes “lead to husband-wife conflict [or] would open old wounds, lead to second- guessing decisions made long ago, or bring forth painful memories of dreams never fulfilled”. In other words, interviews can be regarded as interventions, and as such they affect people. Patton (2002) claims that a good interview reveals thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Furthermore, this is not only a disclosure to the interviewer, but also a reflection to the interviewee (cf. Patton 2002: 405f.). As a consequence, neither Larry King nor his guests do know, generally before but sometimes even after a show, how an interview will affect both of them. In fact, interviews can have a positive and a negative affect on the participants, respectively.

The Concept of Face Threatening Acts

One reason for asking for information the indirect way is to show politeness towards the interviewee. It has to be kept in mind that questions are no neutral speech acts at all. By definition, they are “negative face-threatening and can also threaten the positive face of the [interviewee]” (Macaulay 1996: 493). Furthermore, requests for information generally carry an onus on the interviewee’s side (cf. Macaulay 1996: 493). Evaluating this idea, Blum-Kulka (1983: 147) even calls them ‘control acts’: “questions [whether or not interrogative in form] can also be considered control acts, since by requiring or demanding a response they often carry a strong command message [Goody, 1978]”. In association it must be noted that the interviewer is not only providing floor to the interviewee, but also influencing the content of his or her response (cf. Bublitz 1981: 852).


1 During his final show, for instance, president Barack Obama congratulated and thanked Larry King for his career. California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger even declared december 16th officially as “Larry King Day”.

2 A brief description of the term ‘infotainment’ is found in chapter 5.1.

3 Detailed information about direct and indirect questions is found in section 5.2.2.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 73 Seiten


Discursive Strategies in Interviews
A Case Study of “Larry King Live”
Universität Trier
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
877 KB
language, change, theory, discourse, discursive, strategies, interview, larry king live, larry king, intensifier, corpus, corpus linguistics, conversational, institutional, discourse marker, correlative, conjunction, coordinate
Arbeit zitieren
Tolga Güneysel (Autor:in), 2011, Discursive Strategies in Interviews, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/178669


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