When you ask a question

I have written about this before, but am consistently reminded of it watching a variety of talk shows, including news and news-opinion shows. A pet peeve of mine is someone asking a question and not letting the person answer it. This is followed closely by people who interrupt another person asking a question.

Watching the Showtime mini-series “The Loudest Voice,” about Roger Ailes leading the creation of Fox News, he valued his talk show hosts talking over guests who were making fact-based arguments that countered the mission of the station. That mission was to tell conservative viewers what they wanted to hear.

But, it is not just on Fox, as it occurs on CBS Morning News, Real Time with Bill Maher, The View, etc. I appreciate many of Bill Maher’s opinions as he is well-informed, but I see him often derail good conversation from his guests. Let them talk I say to the TV screen.

The same goes for Joy Behar on The View and Gayle King on CBS Morning News. They both have strong opinions, many I may agree with, but all too frequently they derail good conversation or speak over the guest. Let them talk I say to the screen.

My best example is a Fox host had a guest who had written a well-researched book about the life of Jesus. When he was asked to come on Fox, it was obvious he was there to be verbally beat-up by the host. It was so overt, he asked if it was OK for him to talk. His opinion did not matter.

Two other practices stand in the way of good discussion. The first is the side-by-side talking heads, which make a very unequal issue look like a 50/50 debate. John Oliver once addressed this by having 97 scientists come out to debate three over climate change. Often the 50/50 debate pits an extreme view against a normative one; so if the extreme view wins the debate, viewers feel that makes the good talker’s position correct. It just means they are a better talker over two minutes. Again, with climate change, a glib marketer would often win short debates with scientists who found it difficult to boil points down to short sound bytes.

The second is the interviewer asking the question with the answer in it. This is prevalent on 60 Minutes, where too often the interviewee repeats what the interviewer said. That is force feeding in my mind – let them frame their answer.

This is a key reason I watch PBS Newshour. They have informed guests, who act civilly toward each other and the host. When they are not civil, they tend not to be invited back. The host lets each have time to talk and counter the other. Often, there is mutual agreement on many points, which makes you think more when they differ.

So, interviewers, ask your question, then let people talk. You might learn something.

18 thoughts on “When you ask a question

  1. I don’t watch any television,haven’t for over forty years. My advice to these “guests” is, boycott the shows, don’t bother, stay home, read a book. These entertainment shows, and shows they are, have no meaningful or practical effects upon anything, definitely not on policy changing. This is strictly entertainment, an insult to intelligence… IMO of course. Going to read a book now…

    • Sha’Tara, your opinion is relevant. I have watched less of CBS Morning News. The View has been having the Democrat Presidential candidates, so I watch those when I can. Maher’s show is informative and funny, but you have to put up with his digressions. Keith

  2. Note to Readers: John Oliver has a neat bit where he shows 60 Minutes’ interviewers consistently provide the answer to the question – he plays about two dozen examples in a row. It is quire funny.

    • Erika, I think you raise a good point. The person being interviewed needs to understand the style of the interviewer. One of the Democrat Presidential candidates, Pete Buttigieg, is very informative. I have seen him in numerous interviews and he seems to know how to get his answers across. On one show, he seemingly did not yield the floor, as he knew he would be interrupted if he stopped. Keith

      • So, you really need to learn how to lead the interviewer😄 Actually, it is not funny but a good way to develop that skill.

      • Erika, I tell my children and others who have asked for my input on job interviews, think of questions you want them to ask and, if they don’t, bring it up yourself. Also, think of the questions you don’t want them to ask and be prepared to answer. Former VP Biden said he was surprised at the Democrat debate with Senator Harris’ questions. He should not have been. Keith

  3. Note to Readers: I am often reminded of the quote of an old CEO of ours. He said you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. Interviewers should take heart to that advice.

  4. I am 100% in agreement with you, Keith! As you know, watching television is, for me, a chore, since I must rely on closed-captioning, but one show I used to regularly watch was The View. I greatly respect Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. But the time came when I realized there was so much ‘talking over’ each other, and any guests, that I could not keep up. And at the end of the show, I found myself wondering what the whole point was? I’m saddened to read that 60 Minutes has become the same, for that was, at one time, a quality program. Too many times today, people (especially politicians) are more interested in being heard/seen, than in hearing/seeing the other’s point of view. Civil discourse? Where has it gone?

    • Jill, we must return to civil discourse. Behar has fallen into the Trump trap of making everything about him. I feel the media spends too much time on small Trump indiscretions, that it drowns out the bigger mistakes, untruths and spiteful rhetoric. Making fun of how the president talks though repetition is counterproductive, because he is obviously still getting through to his base. We need to pay more attention to what he says than how he says it, e.g. Keith

      • You are right … the media spends far too much time on Trump and his antics, but I know from experience what an easy trap that is to fall into. I regularly ask myself if this is really what I want to spend my very limited and therefore valuable time on, or if there are more important issues to deal with.

      • Jill, it is easy to fall into. Unfortunately, when the media criticizes everything, it dilutes the message. Keith

    • Hugh, so true. People need to realize when you start shouting or calling the person names, you are not being heard, much less heeded. One of the best push back lines is, “I understand your point, but help me understand…” People want to be heard, so if we listen, we can . push back as needed. Keith

  5. Great points Keith. I rarely watch anything other than PBS or NPR for the very reasons you listed. But even interviewers on those networks are often hijacked by their own bias in the kinds of questions they ask and they way in which they ask questions.

    I really like your point about the side-by-side or pro-con interviews. Never thought about the 97% on one side being reduced to 50% in a side-by-side interview.

    • Thanks Linda. You are right, we all have our biases, so the interviewers must guard against that. As much as criticize Bill Maher, he is well-informed and to his credit has guests that disagree with his viewpoints. But, you have to accept his bias as we do with John Oliver, whose “Last Week Tonight” comedy show has far better news reporting than several pseudo-news outlets. Keith

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