The circumstances vary from celeb to celeb, and some walk-offs might be considered justifiable. But I still hold to this (nearly) sacred rule: Don't do it.
Sure, if I thought about it long enough, I could come up with a semi-reasonable rationalefor bailing in the midst of an interview. But it would have to be under exceptional circumstances.
The walk-offs I've seen usually involve one of two scenarios: the interviewee is annoyed by a question or topic and abruptly ends the interview, or the PR person objects to a line of discussion and cuts things off. (There’s a third, driven by the notion that even bad publicity is good publicity, to use a walk-off as a way to generate more attention. I won’t cover that line of thinking here.)
Walking away from an interview almost always ends badly for the interviewee. It leaves a negative impression of the person—petulant, hot-headed, arrogant or guilt-ridden. Whether the impression is accurate or the result of creative editing doesn’t matter.
That’s not to say an interview can’t have ground rules. If some topics are off limits, they should be discussed ahead of time; an ethical reporter should agree to the boundaries and keep that promise, or disagree even if it costs the interview.
Of course, there are some reporters who will freely break their vow when the camera is rolling. I contend that this still doesn’t give the green light to storm off. This is a risk the interviewee takes when accepting the interview.
Better that the interviewee skip the righteous indignation, calmly remind the reporter of the topic and bring the discussion back to it. It may take repeated efforts—every one of which is an opportunity to reiterate key messages. An especially obnoxious reporter may get belligerent, but a steady demeanor and focused messaging has the best chance of landing the interviewee in the better light.
It’s possible that even with this approach, walking off may be the only option. That’s a judgment call. But it should always be the last resort.