50 Interviews – Lifting the cloak of mystery

8 November 2011

Written by: Erdem Koc

Interviewer:  Steve Kroft

Interview subject: Julian Assange

Program:  60 Minutes, CBS

Broadcast date:  January 30, 2011

CBS’ 60 Minutes presenter Steve Kroft adopts a combative tone for his interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The American media has generally portrayed Assange as a mysterious and clandestine figure who posed a threat to national security. The 60 Minutes report was effectively Assange’s first extended interview with an American network since the Wikileaks story ‘broke’.

Kroft was well aware of this and approaches the interview as an aggrieved American who wants answers. In an extensive two-day interview, Kroft goes through all the criticisms and negative labels of Assange. He forces Assange to respond to comments that he is ‘anti-American’, or that he plays ‘outside the rules’.  He also brings up former workers who dislike him, and to defend the release of Afghan names which put their lives in danger.

Kroft often uses projection (‘there are those who say…’ or ‘there is a perception on the part of some people..’) to ask Assange the ‘hard questions’ the viewers want answered.

Kroft maintains a provocative stance throughout the interview but still displays respect for Assange and his opinions. Assange is highly engaging and delivers an intelligent, rational performance.

Kroft’s tone could be interpreted as hostile, But he demonstrates that he knew his audience and the political landscape well. A softer tone would have resulted in attacks from conservative viewers and media; the story would have been lost in the post-interview analysis.

With an intelligent approach in dealing with a controversial and divisive figure, Steve Kroft lifts the cloak of mystery surrounding Julian Assange.

Watch the full interview here.

See the rest of upstart’s 50 great interviews for journalists here.

Emil Jeyaratnam is a Graduate Diploma in Journalism student at La Trobe University.