Previous Interview Skills 101 diaries (Surviving the Fox Hunt and Twelve Steps to Effective Political Communication) were designed to provide guidelines for Blue Team representatives to help them deal with hostile conservative interviewers on Fakes News and elsewhere.
But apparently some Interview Skills guidelines are also needed for people on the other side of the microphone and camera, as they repeatedly make the same basic mistakes in trying to conduct interviews with KellyAnne Conway and other doubletalking DJT representatives.
So this is for you, Chuck Todd, George Stephanopoulos, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, and any other reporter who gets frustrated when you try to interview KAC and she is not forthcoming on any particular stances.
The key to preparing for a hostile interview with an Rcon spokesbot is first to recognize that it’s a hostile interview. Stop pretending it's a fair fight or a fight by reality-based rules.
It's not like a "normal interview" with a person who wants to be interviewed because they want people to get information about themselves or about a project they are doing.
In a normal interview, you ask a question, and the person answers the question, and then you ask another question, and the person answers, and sometimes you can design a series of questions to draw a person out and create an interesting encounter with an interesting human being.
An interview with KAC or any other Rcon spokesbot is not a normal interview.
Their only goal is to repeat the talking points of the day.
Again, that is their ONLY goal.
Regardless of what question you ask, their answers will be the talking points of the day.
Their idea of a "good interview" is one where they hit all the talking points they wanted to hit, including all the buzzwords and catchphrases they are trying to promote, and say absolutely nothing else.
So here are your first three tips.
- Do not prepare as if if were a normal interview. Do not prepare three areas of questioning determined to get to them all, for example. Pick one area where you want to focus, and focus on it. They are going to be singleminded, so you also have to be singleminded.
- Keep your questions short. You help them by asking long questions because you help them fill the time. Your long question is as useless a time filler as their word salad filibustering, and also gives them a way to pick just a part of your long question to answer while avoiding the rest. Pithy questions are harder to duck. And it is easier for the persuadables in the audience to remember the question didn’t get answered.
- Listen carefully enough to the word salad (I know it is hard) to notice the areas they are most interested in avoiding. Be nimble and ready to respond as the interview demands. If you strike gold in one area, stay there. If you get them on the line, don’t stop, take out the hook, throw them back in the water and give them a chance to swim away by changing the subject.
Let's use as our example this interview attempt by George Stephanopoulos.
GS starts by asking KAC a long-winded question about whether the Muslim Travel Ban executive order will be revised.
Of course KAC does not answer. She goes to her "Blame Obama—he picked these countries" talking point.
GS to his credit interrupts the filibuster and commits journalism for a moment, noting that Rs are trying to use 9/11 as justification for this when the countries the 9/11 hijackers are from are not included in the ban, and noting (THANKS GEORGE) that those same countries are places where DJT has business interests.
Why weren't those countries included?
YES! APPLAUSE! That is a BURNING QUESTION and on behalf of the Blue Team I am BEGGING other interviewers to ask this question and keep asking it until they get a serious response.
KAC continues with her "Blame Obama—Obama did it for longer" talking point as if she had not even been interrupted.
Then she throws out some noun verb 9/11 keep us safe word salad, moves from there to the "this is temporary" talking point (I'll believe it's temporary when I see it), then goes to the "everyone detained got a waiver" talking point, then the "why don't they protest other social ills" talking point. Watch the Sean Spicer “press briefing” from this afternoon and note how many of the exact same talking points were repeated by him.
It is essential to note that KAC says NOTHING about the DJT business interests angle. She sidesteps it COMPLETELY. That is a clue that this is an area where they have no answer prepared yet. It's your job to listen for the dog that does not bark. The question they keep refusing to answer is a CLUE as to where true investigative journalism should keep probing.
But GS has prepared three areas of questioning like a good journalism student and is desperate to get to his last point, so he lets her off the hook on the DJT business interests question, wasting a prime opportunity.
However, the section on the World War III tweet ended very strong and could have been the focus of the entire interview. If the whole interview had been that tight, GS might have accomplished something, and I would stop calling him Snuffleupagus.
Here is the tweet in question in case you haven't seen it:
Stephanopoulos asks KAC three times about the WW III part of the tweet.
Each time KAC deliberately only focuses on the first half of the tweet.
The third time around she got annoyed and tells HIM to “read the whole tweet don't cherry pick.” No “reductive curating"? What the ever living frak was THAT about? She cherry picks for an effing LIVING! She wrote the BOOK on “reductive curating”! She just told an interviewer not to cherry pick?
This may be a sign that she was rattled. You know how they hate tough questions and yes or no questions. She put a meme weapon in your hands if you know how to use it. I expect everyone who interviews her in future to throw that back in her face when she tries to sidestep the most important part of a difficult question:
"Wait a minute, you're the one cherry picking now, you are focusing only on the first part of the question instead of answering the central question of why Muslim majority countries where DJT has business interests are not included in this ban?
"Wait a minute, you're doing reductive curating now, you are focusing only on the first part of the tweet instead of answering the central question here, which is why is DJT accusing Republicon Senators of trying to start World War III?
Now. I know some of you (I'm looking at you, Chuck Todd) are worried that if you are hard on Rcons that they will stop coming on your show and Rs will stop watching and your ratings will plummet. You are partially right about that.
But here is where you are wrong.
First of all, they want and need to get their message out. Not everything can be broadcast to the masses in DJT's 140 character bursts. If even just a handful of the major news shows adopt a tough line of questioning, Rs can not boycott them all. They benefit from being on mainstream (non Fakes-News) television. It normalizes them and helps them seem less radical to persuadable folks in the middle.
Second, it would drive Rs crazy if interview shows started featuring all D panels for any period of time. The Blue message (such as it is, we desperately need to work on message discipline) would be going out without rebuttal from them! It would drive them crazy that they did not get to answer back.
We could talk about the Muslim Ban, and they won't get a chance to squawk "it's not a ban, it's not a ban!"
We could talk about Republicons having no plan to replace Obamacare, and they won't get a chance to bleat "We have a plan, a secret plan, and we will tell you about it on the Twelfth of Never!"
Third, they love the game. They get a thrill out of going on the shows and managing to complete a ten minute “interview” segment without answering any questions. I'm sure they high five each other gleefully—"You managed to mention all the RWTP of the day and didn't say anything else! You did GREAT!"
If the media want to get serious about fighting the tactics KAC and others are using, stop having them on. These are not normal times. You do not have any obligation to create balance. Reality and facts have a well known liberal bias. Report the facts.
If KAC is the only person Rs will send, then they get no one on the show and the panel discussion will be all Democrats.
Bonus: If DJT tells them to boycott you, and your guests are all Democrats for a while, you may be pleasantly surprised at the ratings. We are the majority, and the energy is with us (you may have noticed a few demonstrations recently). The first news organization to fill this void is going to have a rush of hungry Dems flocking to your news shows just as conservatives started watching Fakes News because no place else was reflecting their point of view.
There is no need to keep bending over backwards to be cordial to R spokesbots who are just playing you for fools. You think having DJT representatives on your show will please Deplorables when there is nothing you can do to get them to like you or trust you. Most of them never watch television news anyway (except for Faux News).
Meanwhile the Blue Team is a potentially huge audience out here.
And we outnumber them.
ATTENTION REPORTERS: PLEASE SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW about framing interview questions at the (elementary school) comprehension level of the viewer, not the interviewee
Previous TRUE BLUE REPORT diaries
Jan 29: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness
Jan 28: Blue Ribbon Winners: Women's March participants and #NoMuslimBan demonstrators and...
Jan 27: I wish Steve Bannon would tell me to keep my mouth shut
Jan 26: Thursday Action—Have you ever written a letter to the editor? Here’s how to start
Jan 25: The Asch Conformity Study, inauguration crowds, and the importance of speaking out
Jan 24: #ResistTrumpTuesday—good news day or another paying dues day?
Jan 23: Spy the Lie 101: How to enjoy watching Rcon spokesbot interviews, even KAC!
Jan 22: Why I prayed for the President* today
Jan 21: The only silver lining in the midst of these clouds
Inaugural (!) diary: Stop expecting Republicons to make sense