Interviewers – please listen to the responses

I have written a variation of the post on a number of occasions. One of my pet peeves is interviewers who ask a question, then proceed to talk over the response of the guest. This happens often on Fox’s night time shows in that Roger Ailes wanted his interviewers to beat up certain guests. Yet, it is not restricted to Fox, MSNBC, etc. This practice is done by more than a few news oriented talk shows.

It becomes more frustrating when a guest is on who actually is more expert or researched in a particular area. To hear a less informed talk show host talk over a more learned guest is poor form. To Bill Maher’s credit, he has a number of guests from various walks of life and different points of view. Yet, I consistently get frustrated when he interrupts a very good point, just because he may not like the answer.

Gayle King of “CBS Morning News” is in the same boat as Maher. On occasion, she can be a good interviewer, yet more often, she has to interrupt the guest. Joy Behar on “The View” is of the same ilk. Behar, like King or Maher, will have some good points, but she will interject them to sideline good conversation on too many occasions.

I also like “60 Minutes,” but quite often the interviewer will provide the answer in the question. This leaves the respondent the duty to just agree with what was said. John Oliver did a wonderfully funny piece where he showed about two dozen “60 Minutes” interviewers answering their own questions. When piled on top of each other, it is just plain funny.

Jim Lehrer, of “PBS Newshour” fame, passed away a few weeks ago. He was known for not making the interviewer the story. Ask the questions and let the response occur was a mantra of his. But, listen to the response, as the next question may not be the one you planned to ask.

The Lehrer example reminds me of a philosophy I had when I coached Little League baseball. Make sure the kids knew what to do, then shut up and sit on your hands in the dugout and let them play. Let the answers come and listen and watch. The watching is important as a person’s body language may give away uneasiness over an answer. Carter Page, who was caught up in the Russia investigation, was on PBS Newshour a couple of times. It became obvious that he was not as forthcoming with the truth as he should have been.

I have decided to reduce some stress in my life. So, rather than watch multiple news shows, I have pared back. If I watch “BBC World News America,” I will pass on “PBS Newshour.” I also am watching “CBS Morning News” less, as well as “Real time with Bill Maher.” And, if a good guest appears on “The View,” I may tune in.

So, interviewers please let the guests answer your questions. It will not make you less smart if you do. And, in the end, we all may learn something.

Let me leave you with a thought. ABC’s Good Morning America had the parent and step-parent on one morning when their daughter went missing. By letting them talk, it became apparent they were hiding something. As it turned out, the parents had killed the daughter (I will leave off other horrific details). I recognize this is an extreme example, but if people are allowed to speak, we may learn something, just maybe what they did not want us to know.

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.

Interviewers – ask your question then be quiet

My friend Lisa, who is the pied piper of Ecuador as an involved and involving American expat, offered a comment specific to Fox News about interviewers talking over the answers of people being interviewed. While Fox is far from perfect, they are not alone in interviewers who trample over their guests’ answers. I was planning on writing a piece before I saw her comment, as I get so frustrated when I see this happen.

Two of the worst at this are Gayle King of “CBS Morning News” and Bill Maher of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” I like both of these folks and think Maher is one of the more informed interviewers around. Even though his show is a comedy show, he welcomes guests that have varying views to discuss the topics of the day. King also has a lot to offer, but in a format with two other capable interviewers, she sometimes overshadows the guest to hear herself talk.

What frustrates me more, is when they have a very knowledgeable, but less pushy guest, who is in the middle of making a well-thought out and experienced based point. What happens too often is the point remains incomplete and the guest has to go in a different direction in response to the interruption. My wife teases me when she hears me exclaim “Let the person talk!”

An equally troubling approach is fully deployed by “60 Minutes” interviewers. John Oliver on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight” does a piece which illustrates this approach – giving the answer to the person being interviewed who parrots what the interviewer just said. When Oliver shows about a dozen of these clips in sequence, it is hysterical.

So, interviewer do us all a favor. Ask your question, then be quiet. Let your interviewee finish the answer. Do not talk over the answer to show us how smart you think you are. I would prefer you do your homework beforehand and ask good questions. What ends up happening is the interview falls short of what it could have been. And, don’t give the person the answer – let them use their words.