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.