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.

A tribute to Jim Lehrer

One of my main sources for televised news is the PBS Newshour. It is an even-handed news report, that offers expert commentary in a civilized way. This approach traces itself to initial and long-time host, Jim Lehrer, who died on Thursday. He began the show with Robert MacNeil, primarily covering the Watergate impeachment hearings. It is apropos he died during the current impeachment trial.

From a CBS News report, the following is an excerpt about Lehrer.

“Over a career that spanned 50 years, Lehrer moderated a total of 12 presidential debates, more than anyone in history, including all the ones held in 1996 and 2000. He also wrote 20 novels, three memoirs and several plays and earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees. Former President Clinton bestowed the National Humanities Medal on Lehrer in 1999. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected him a fellow and, alongside Robert MacNeil, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999.

Mr. Clinton honored Lehrer in a tweet on Thursday, writing ‘I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.'”

Key themes of the news he broadcast included rules like:
– don’t make the story about you
– keep news clearly separated from editorial opinion
– assume there is more than one side to a story
– respect those being interviewed and covered
– ask simple questions and let the interviewee provide the answers
– guests must be civil to each other and the hosts and vice-versa

To many do not follow these simple rules. Last month, he noted the challenge that news broadcasts have now. In a news world of division, it is difficult to report when the news includes lying, so as to avoid being called divisive. He said we are not there yet. But, we must try.

Join me in honoring an honest and informed newscaster. David Brooks said tonight, “Jim had a moral ecology” which is similar to what MacNeil said saying “Jim had a moral intelligence.” He sought the truth and did it with a civil demeanor. Well done, Jim Lehrer.