These aren’t ‘interviews.’ These guys are just there to shout you down

I’ve been interviewed plenty of times — mostly on the radio. I’ve even conducted an interview, here and there.

The goal of the news or entertainment interview — any LEGITIMATE interview — is to provide to the listener (or viewer, or reader) an accurate slice of such factual information as the interviewee (“guest”) is able to provide. In a best case, you hope he or she will also contribute a few colorful anecdotes, examples, or at least turns of phrase, which the audience may find entertaining.

You want to “bring out their voice.”

Some subjects are a bit nervous — it can take a little work to get them relaxed enough to answer in anything but monosyllables. And of course some go to the opposite extreme: They bloviate, they filibuster — they may need to be nudged back onto the topic at hand, first gently, then a little more firmly.

All that said, however, a good interviewer will work to make the guest feel comfortable. A good interviewer is happiest when the guest does at least 80 percent of the talking. The interviewer provides just enough “steering,” background, and follow-up questions to prevent a descent into an endless drone, to make sure the guest has made him- or herself clear, to keep things “perky.”

I’m not sure a three- or four-minute interview is really possible, unless both parties are essentially acting out a rehearsed routine. An interview of that length is a discourtesy both to the viewer or listener and to the person who’s adjusted his schedule to make him or herself available. A block of time between 15 minutes and an hour usually makes the most sense.

(In this Internet age, should broadcast requirements REALLY require things to be trimmed to a few minutes — which is rarely the case; they literally have all day — the answer is to air the best SEGMENT of a fuller interview, offering the viewers or listeners a Web address where they can go “hear the whole thing.” If your “guests” don’t have at least 15 uninterrupted minutes worth of material which would be of value to your audience, don’t invite them in the first place. Hire a clown and some jugglers.)

Follow-up questions should rarely be scripted in advance. They should arise from LISTENING TO WHAT THE GUEST IS SAYING. If he’s just said all drugs should be legalized –- whether the interviewer happens to agree or not –- it’s only sensible to say, “Gosh, many listeners hearing that are bound to think ‘He wants to hand out free heroin to little kids!’ Can you explain a little better what a de-criminalized market in drugs would look like? Are there any historical precedents?”

Or whatever. But you have to LISTEN, in order to ENGAGE.

Marc Levin is a pretty good interviewer. Here in Las Vegas, the late Lou Epton had the gift. He sounded warm and friendly, never rushed, anxious, or hostile, and when we were done he nearly always thanked me for “making his job easy” by carrying the ball most of the way down the field.


I don’t watch much TV, these days. Having just caught some “professional interviewers” on “big-time TV news shows” interviewing spokesmen for the Trump administration on such matters as the proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum, I’m reminded why.

Listen to Chris Wallace ( ), Wolf Blitzer, George Stephanopoulos -– virtually anyone amongst the Herd Media -– interviewing on such a topic, which is at least slightly technical, which requires a LITTLE background research.

It doesn’t really matter whether the foil, the straight man, is trade representative Peter Navarro, or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, or whoever.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the interviewer seems to have a written, scripted list of at least half a dozen questions, and that the main emphasis seems to be getting through that entire list -– proving to the boss that they all got asked -– rather than actually listening to the answers, and then engaging in any back-and-forth “discussion.”

In fact, trying to get through half a dozen questions in 10 minutes or less -– when the questions are actually more like the lengthy opening statements of a debater seeking to undercut or refute what he knows his “opponent” is about to say -– means the “questioner” ends up talking (eventually shouting) over his “opponent’s” answer, in order to shut him up so the “interviewer” can get on to reading his next lengthy “question.”

The “questioner” ends up spending at least half the allotted time listening to the sound of his own (increasingly hysterical) voice -– a sure sign of trouble.

The next thing you’ll notice is that the “interviewers” don’t seem to have done their background research.

Donald Trump has been calling for a 25 percent tariff on Chinese goods -– to eliminate the trade imbalance which has gutted our industrial base -– for at least seven years. ( ) — or, for the “sound byte” version — ( .) He campaigned on this issue. Along with immigration enforcement, he WON ELECTION on this issue. His staff spent a year examining all the options and concluding any tariffs must be “global” to avoid sneaky trans-shipment “work-arounds.” He and his men explained all this to the Europeans in Davos almost two months ago.

These “TV commentators” have had plenty of time to absorb and process all that background. Why do they act as though everyone has just been caught off guard by some bizarre overnight White House tariff whim?


And the third thing you’ll notice is that all the “interviewers” seem to be working from the same list of questions. Really. Can that be a coincidence? One after another they insist that we get very little of our steel from China, that our biggest source of imported steel (16 percent ) is Canada, followed by South Korea or Mexico or whoever, then asking “Won’t there be exemptions for our friends, our allies, like Canada? After all, for purposes of national security, isn’t steel from Canada considered just as good as American steel?”

Under the circumstances, since the administration spokesmen are just trying to answer the questions being asked, I don’t want to savage them. But I do wish, just once, one of them would wait for a second or two of silence, and then say:

“OK, let’s go with your suggestion, Chris. Give me just two minutes, here, to give you the answer. Let’s say we adopt no tariffs, while most of these countries that are doing all the squawking currently have in place all kinds of tariffs and ‘Value Added Taxes’ and other sneaky ways to make sure their consumers buy less than 25 percent as much American stuff as we buy from them. You know how much American rice gets into Japan? Zero. But let’s say we let our last remaining steel and aluminum smelters — our last manufacturer of armored plate — go out of business next year, as is about to happen. Let me talk. Let me finish, Chris. You got to ask your question, now be civil, Chris. Put down your list and let me answer:

“Four years from now, God forbid, Red China invades Taiwan, or South Korea. President Trump tells them to stop, or we’ll go to war. We’ll use all that great steel and aluminum we import from Canada and Mexico to build more warships, aircraft, tanks, rifles; we’ll go to war. And what does the premier of China say? He says ‘None of that steel and aluminum you’ve been importing from Canada and Mexico is made there, you simpleton. The Canadians smelt hardly ANY steel these days. It’s all Chinese steel that we’ve been trans-shipping through Vancouver in order to get it into your country duty-free. And I just cut off our steel shipments to Canada last week. Cut them to zero.

( See . . . . Or check any list of the world’s top steel PRODUCERS: You’ll find China, Japan, America (still), Germany, Russia — but neither Canada or Mexico in even the top dozen.)

“‘There IS no Canadian steel, you fool, and all your American steel mills have shut down, they’re rusting, pigeons roost in them. You can’t make a single warship. To make one tank, you’ll have to melt down a dozen old Toyotas. And who’s going to man the blast furnaces to do even THAT? A bunch of Pancake House waitresses and convenience store clerks?

“‘We just sank four of your aircraft carriers, using missile technology Mr. and Mrs. Clinton sold us. Shut up and go home, old man. We’ll call you when we need some new 3-D movies.’

“That’s what the Chinese are going to say. And you want an exemption for Canada, Chris? It’s OK for our last steel mills and aluminum smelters to be put out of business by cheap Chinese steel imports next year, as long as that Chinese steel and aluminum is all shipped here through Canada or Mexico? Are you really that stupid, Chris . . . or are you just pretending?”

4 Comments to “These aren’t ‘interviews.’ These guys are just there to shout you down”

  1. Steve Says:

    With Canada and Mexico indefinitely excepted from the tariffs, what good are they?

  2. Vin Says:

    Hi, Steve — Not sure I follow you. Due to trans-shipments of Chinese steel and aluminum through their ports, the tariffs would indeed be pointless if Canada and Mexico were granted a permanent exemption.

    Or do you mean that Canada and Mexico HAVE been granted a permanent exemption? “Indefinite” doesn’t usually mean “permanent.” I believe we’ll likely see the “indefinite exemption” for Canada and Mexico last a few weeks as Trump gives them a final chance to agree to stop using NAFTA to trans-ship cheap Chinese steel and aluminum (and lots of other stuff) into the U.S., duty-free. And I doubt he’d allow any “fingers crossed behind the back” — they’d have to let the U.S. inspect & verify.

    If Canada & Mexico don’t agree to that — and I doubt Trump ever really expected them to — he’s made it pretty clear he’ll pull us out of NAFTA, and the “global” steel and aluminum tariffs will quickly get a whole lot more “global.”

    — V.S.

  3. Steve Says:

    Hi, Vin. We are seeing how he is using that tool now. Only time will tell.

  4. Technomad Says:

    The reason the Japanese have ferocious tariffs on rice is because it’s the staple of their diet, and they do not want to have to depend on anybody outside their Home Islands for it.

    And we could bring the Chinese to heel by simply embargoing all Chinese goods, and unilaterally repudiating all debts we owe them. Without us, their Wirtschaftswunder is toast…and they know it.