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When a Laugh is not a Laugh

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This is a quickie.

I’ve talked before about how an interviewer has to be careful sometimes in sharing a laugh with an interviewee.  Laughing can make people seem connected to an idea more so than many other ways people interact.  Sometimes, an interviewer can’t afford to have an audience think they have a particular bent.

But this is about the interviewee’s laugh and not in a good way.  Of course laughter can be natural, fun, disarming.  It is one of the primary ways we connect.  But sometimes, a laugh is an anthropological proxy for something very different.  In some cases, a laugh says that the interviewee is nervous and they are trying to draw the interviewer into the interviewee’s artificial mood so that they can feel more in control of the situation.

Sometimes, a laugh is intended to dismiss, as when an interviewer asks a question and before the question is out, the interviewee is laughing in a way that clearly says, “That’s a ridiculous question”, followed up by something that isn’t a direct affront but sounds passive aggressive or patronizing.

And sometimes, the laugh is a disguise for aggression.  We’ve all seen it.  The conversation that is held behind gritted teeth because to scowl or grimace or bear teeth without the upturned corners of the mouth might jeopardize what the laugher is trying to achieve.  It might be working their way out of an uncomfortable situtation for which they have much embarassment and no appreciation.  Or it could be dealing with someone they dislike or fear but dare not be obvious about it.  Or it could be interacting with someone for whom they have no respect.

There are a lot of interpersonal dynamics in play during an interview.  The interviewer’s job is to keep his in check and not be drawn in by any play on the his ego by the interviewee’s ego.  This includes the seemingly harmless but potentially crippling use of laughter.  I’ve said it before, but it’s important for the interviewer to be nothing but a mirror to the interviewee.  In that way, they lose any ability to manipulate and are left to just answer the question.

Written by Interviewer

April 28, 2014 at 14:23

I Can Relate …

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This is a quickie. I am reminded again why an interviewer should never insert themselves personally into an interview, either because you end up generating something unintentional or being unintentionally complicit in something.

It’s very easy to do. You want to be cordial, even accommodating to help the conversation move forward. So you commiserate, you affirm … and the moment you do, you potentially put your foot in a bear trap. That’s why, as I mentioned in this post from many years ago, questions focused on the interviewee and answers from only the interviewee are the safest route for the journalist. Even sharing a laugh can be fraught.

I’ve had dozens of political candidates tell me, over nearly a decade of talking with them, that I don’t judge them, that I make them feel comfortable, that I ask good questions. But none of that means I make a habit of saying things like, “I know how you feel” because even if I do, I keep it to myself because, one, it’s not about me and two, that is the first step into a minefield.

By leaving yourself out of most inclinations to identify with whatever the guest is talking about, you don’t find your feet tangled in the reeds at the bottom of whatever swamp later inconsistencies in their story trap you in. You don’t want to be, in any way responsible for or implicated in some dialogue related mess later because you went somewhere you had no business going, not matter how well intentioned.

Clear, clean questions keep separations between them and you sharp, and that’s safest for your both.

Written by Interviewer

April 22, 2022 at 05:47

Posted in Scratchpad

Oregon2020 – Dacia Grayber

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These transcripts are presented to help users quickly find information they are searching for within the interview. Keywords may be searched using the CTL-F function. The software used provides a very rough but phonetically accurate transcription and for the most part, punctuation is omitted. Human speech patterns, being unique, make reading the interview transcript more difficult than listening to the interview audio file. It is recommended that users use the transcript and audio file together. For more information, visit the Candidate Interview Project at

This transcript is of the Dacia Grayber interview.

DM – Don Merrill
DG – Dacia Grayber

00:00 DM – I’m Don Merrill and talking with Dacia Grayber she’s a Democrat running for Oregon House District 35 Ms Grayber welcome

00:06 DG – thank you

00:08 DM – Ms Grayber, your campaign kickoff party was less than 48 hours ago

00:10 DG – yes it was

00:13 DM – why do you want to be in the Oregon house

00:16 DG – so dialing it back 20 years I have spent the last two decades working as a firefighter and paramedic in my communities and in that work I’ve had the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, kind of one call at a time and show up on someone’s worst day and make it better and through my career I have had a lot of exposure to all different folks in the world and I have started at sort of inform some of the advocacy that I’ve been working in for the last 10 years whether that is working in opening a houseless healthcare clinic in tigard or testifying down at the state capital for gun violence prevention work so two years ago, I was proctoring the metro fire camp at tualitin valley and I invited then representative Margaret Doroghty to come visit and she did she spent most of the day with us and she said at the end she said you think about running for office and I laughed I was like no way I am not politician there is there’s no way I’m going to do this and here I am in front of you so I have found through the work I’ve done that when you have a brave voice and you stand up for what you believe any show up for your community can change things them to continue working as a firefighter and the opportunity to take that to the next level is really exciting

01:42 DM – you mentioned youre a firefighter you’re also a paramedic with tualitin Valley and rescue and you knew you wanted to be one since you were 10 you say on your website you felt privileged to do what you do so what went through your mind last year when news broke that after nearly 2 decades Congress had finally got around approving the 9/11 fund for first responders that have been suffering from the toxic environment they were exposed with Ground Zero

02:09 DG – I can’t believe it took as long as it did that should have been a bipartisan effort from day one and not only just for first responders I mean we tend to enjoy a lot of public support but there are so many other people that were not under that umbrella that they didn’t have that seem health benefit who lived in new york at the time it’s the same thing that happened in Salem last year when we had folks on both sides of the aisle vote to cut public pensions

02:38 DM – in 2016 CNNMoney reported only 7% of the 1.1 million US firefighters are women the woman featured in the story Aaron Reagan who was a firefighter for LA County said I realized firefighting isnt for every girl but most girls never even consider it to be a possibility in your experience is that true and if girls ask you about becoming a firefighter would you tell them

03:04 DG – it is the best job in in the world and girls are more than capable of that the old adage that women can’t be firefighters is something that’s rooted in misogyny and I think frankly and insecurity because women are incredible firefighters now you do need to have standards for strength and your physical fitness and we absolutely have to have those but when you have a diverse team you are a stronger team and we have found that across the board I’m actually the chair of local 1660s equity and inclusion committee I’ve been that for the last seven years and in the time that I’ve been on that weve more than doubled our number of women that we employ as well as other minorities but I any woman thats questioning and hearing this out there look me up contact me on my website I will get you a ride along and I hook you up with what would be an outstanding experience

03:55 DM – you and your husband who is also a firefighter were featured last year the USA Today story about Oregons paid family medical leave house Bill 2005 which was signed into law by Gov. Brown makes Oregon one of only about eight states in the country to have it your husband was diagnosed with throat cancer and in the story you said at the time this was the beginning of the upside down world we been ever since what did you mean by that

04:23 DG – so he wasn’t sick we have as a benefit to us working for TDFR in our annual physicals and he had for a couple months he’d been snoring and he’s not he doesn’t snore and I thank goodness and he was choking on food but he never felt sick and so I was actually in a meeting talking about banning asbestos while he went for a routine follow-up because our department felt a lump on his neck I get this text message and by the way you should never ever tell your spouse this through text that said don’t freak out looks like I have throat cancer but that was March 21, 2019 and I am proud to say that he is cancer he has no evidence of disease it’s still a long journey ahead but so many things that we had taken for granted so many assumptions just the way our lives were gonna look we were thrown into an upside down world and you know I was already working in Salem as an advocate to testify for this bill based on the work I’d done with a houseless you know we never in a million years thought we’d be in a spot where that same law could have made a huge benefit to us because you know we have FMLA I have sick leave and vacation leave that I’ve accrued but I think always thought um you know were firefighters of public safety there’s got to be some some kind of leave and there isn’t we about the day after he got his CAT scan and a couple weeks before his surgery we went down to Salem when they had the large testimonies and both spoke to the bill and very thankfully that bill passed in it’s exciting because in the future Oregon families don’t have to choose between their job security and caring for their loved ones

06:17 DM – you also testified in support of this year’s house bill 4005

06:21 DG – yes

06:22 DM – which is a gun safety proposal that requires guns to be securely stored you know that proposal was aggressively attacked by gun rights proponents and I’ve talked with several of them and they say people have guns protect their homes and their families and they say in the time it takes to open a safe or undo a trigger lock the burglar who might have a gun has already killed but from your perspective you’ve seen what unsecured guns can do if you get into the legislature how would you find common ground with colleagues who see the issue so differently

06:53 DG -that’s something I feel really wonderful about the relationships that I’ve already built with folks across the aisle so my crew at work is deeply conservative I am a gun owner as well first of all which usually surprises people I keep them in a safe I grew up in kind of a world where I was either in the city or at my grandparents farm I knew how to shoot by the time I could run but I belive that doesn’t impede my ability to be safe and so I find that at the end of the day when we look to finding common ground that’s where we start and one thing I found particularly with gun violence prevention work at we all want to feel safe in our homes we have different avenues to that so how do we work together to find to find that and with this bill in particular what’s been most surprising to me especially talking with folks I work with whoever who are you know Oregon firearms Federation or who are very and I don’t want to say pro second amendment because I’m pro-Second Amendment too we have the Second Amendment no one is coming to take the guns away and no one is looking to remove that amendment at all there’s a lot of misinformation about this bill in particular you know the bill stipulates its first of all it’s not a criminal liability its civil liability and its all within reason so if you choose to have your gun on you in your house and you have a under your control its secured in your control you are not liable they’re not saying that you keep it locked up at all times if if you have it within with, so say you go to bed and you have in your bedside table you accepting responsibility for that same thing folks have been asking you know if I lock my door and someone breaks in and they steal my gun am I liable the answer is no you have 72 hours to report that and if it’s a hunting rifle and is not hunting season the law looks at that as reasonable the last thing I’ll say about house bill 4500 I’m obviously very passionate about it and it’s an issue I’ve worked on for years is that we know from polling if this goes to the ballot it will pass and that the bill that will go to the ballot that is going to be far more restrictive than the one that’s being worked on in the state legislature

09:08 DM – you said on your website that preserving and protecting our wild spaces is essential to who we are but the legislature has had two build this session that expanded the urban growth boundaries around Bend and Pendleton in Pendleton it’s helping to increase housing stock if you get into the legislature how will you address the need for space for people while preserving habitat for wildlife

09:34 DG – great question that’s one of those policies I would need to build out more but I believe that both of those can coexist you know by you know we have in Portland a lot of infill capability here and I know that’s a dirty word to a lot of folks especially in my district people don’t want to hear about infill but as we have more and more people moving here we need to continue to create housing that’s affordable I think we do have a mandate as Oregonians to prevent sprawl into some of these wild places when I say that when I’m specifically referring to are places like any obviously not local to like the Owyhee canyonlands or some of our national park areas or forestland that in some cases it’s been sold off for development you know how we find that balance that’s to be determined and that’s why we have a whole bunch of really well-informed people and planners and and folks in that industry that I would look to

10:35 DM – I used to work for the Department of Interior and so I was around and aware of a lot of controlled burns and I was also around when controlled burns became uncontrolled burns

10:49 DG – me too

10:50 DM – so I want to ask you every year we have a wildfire season every year the state announces controlled burns and sometimes those get out hand so what you as a firefighter what do you say as a potential legislator about how the state deals with of the use of fire to control fire

11:08 DG – we have done such a good job at putting fires out over the years that now we have some of this unmitigated fire growth so I am a fan of using fire to control fire but we have to be smart about how we do it you know we can get into the deep weeds about forest management I had someone the other day say that wildland fires only happen on federal lands and I was like oh I’m here to tell you I went on 3 slash fires at Weyerhaeuser last year I it’s not it’s not just there so we have to as we move deeper into the climate change crisis and you know as firefighters weve had to change our tactics and the way we look at things where I work we used to keep you know in the winter you have your chains on your rig then sometime in June you pull out your wildland gearing you put it on your rig last year we had our first two alarm wildland fire in February

12:06 DM – the Supreme Court is about to hear Louisiana abortion case thats like a Texas case the came three years earlier then clinic doctors not only had to also work in hospital but the clinics had have features of hospitals which of course the didn’t because theyre clinics Texas said they passed a law make abortion safer but critics didn’t believe it on your website you say you will fight any move Oregon makes to restrict a woman’s right to safe abortion are you worried that that Oregon is drifting that way

12:34 DG – I think that and I don’t have the exact numbers but last year there were dozens of abortion restriction bills that were proposed in the house and in the Senate most that were defeated I think with the I’m adamantly pro-choice and pro-abortion access and a know that’s a difficult position a lot of the my union membership is very conservative and Catholic and they are pro-life but I have seen you know both not personally but through friends and family I mean abortion keeps women safe abortion care is healthcare and we know with a Trump administration that even things you know sacred to our values as Roe V Wade are going to be under attack and so I think if we think that were safe in Oregon from that were kidding ourselves and so I will aggressively fight to make sure so Oregon is the only state that has no restrictions on abortion access at this point and I think it’s almost a mandate for us to lead that and to be that safe space for women we have women women coming from all over the country to seek abortion healthcare here and 98 just another thing people get caught up there is no such thing as as full-term abortion that doesn’t exist and we know that 98 to 99% of all abortions happen before 20 weeks and its a difficult issue and I want to see a world where every child is loved and wanted but sometimes there’s health reasons there’s other reasons and and I will hold the line on that we even have to go little further I’ve had experience working with transports from the prison system and our women who are in the prisons who are incarcerated don’t have access to abortion healthcare that’s safe and accessible for them because because of the insurance regulations they have to pay for their own security detail and most of those women who are incarcerated are in no position to do that

14:34 DM – Portland police have started sending crisis intervention team members with officers to situation that in the past have gotten people having a mental health crisis killed rather than helped Do you see that as progress

14:47 DG – the mental health response teams absolutely I have been working with the houseless specifically in Portland and in the Portland Metro area from most eight years now and the majority of my folks were learning all the time like a study came out the other day that over half of our houseless has a traumatic brain injury history but a lot of our folks are have either cycles of mental health concerns are certain addiction issues and when we are sending police in to add to a tense hostile situations things escalate quickly and a lot of these folks don’t understand what they’re proceeding in and I’ve watched and I consider a lot of these folks my friends and I’ve seen them get in a lot of trouble so folks that are trained in mental health response that know how to de-escalate know how to work with different populations and understand where folks are coming from that’s absolutely vital to helping solve our crisis that we have here and to de-escalating the violence

15:49 DM – Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have proposed ways to reduce student debt you say in your website that the cost of higher education is out of control why is it important for boomers & millennial to get debt relief and how will you fight to lower college costs for Oregon students

16:08 DG – I think especially and I’m also speaking as a mom of four teenagers three-year of whom are going to graduate in the next three years were a blended family the cost of higher education is almost prohibitive and even our avenues that we had towards towards reduced costs higher education like community college are getting to the point were a lot of folks are being priced out I don’t know as a state legislator I’m not going to be able to solve free college for all let’s put that on Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders but as far as from the state mandates you know we pass this really sweeping student success act and now I think the next step is to look both before that at pre-K and offering preschool programs and also post secondary so our community colleges and public institutions I think we need to have transparency and accountability in some of the overhead there and then look at ways to to to better fund our state institutions Oregon public colleges are some of the most expensive in the nation and it didnt always need to be that way that goes all the way back to believe its measure 5 where thing started increasing that brings up how you know to of the least sexy words in the state legislature are revenue reform and I think in this state we need to have real honest conversations about revenue reform and how that could benefit everyone by that I mean you know we have some of the largest corporations in the country where 98% of what their business is generating as exports and you know how much they pay on those exports as far as taxes nothing we are we are very low and export taxes I thats I mean toward like the cat Tax they paying right now so student success you had not to pick on them but Nike and Intel and Tektronix and some of those groups at the table crafting those laws because in some ways they could dictate the terms and I think we need its going to take a lot of brave voices standing up and people fear pass-throughs and they fear these companies leaving I work out where Nike is theyre not going anywhere

18:12 DM – in recent years employers have complained that the graduates they’re getting are not able to do the job they need them to do that’s been called the skills gap what if anything do you think you can do to help close that gap before kids graduate to make sure they have a job when they do

18:32 DG – thats awesome and that makes I want to backup a little but that when were having this conversation about higher education we absolutely can’t leave out the trades I work in a trade a skilled trade we have some of the strongest trade unions in the country right here in Oregon so we need to work I know Bolli right now is working on strengthening apprenticeship programs and seen more folks have that route I have you know one of my kids hes he wants to go in medicine he is like fully set on wanting to go premed I’m not sure how were going to pay for that but one of my other kids he doesn’t know what he wants yet but he said he’s incredibly skilled and that’s one of the you know area for him that he may go into the trades and having that as an opportunity so we need to be bolstering and there was a bill passed I don’t remember off the top of my head but to increase funding for trade schools and how we kind of create that pathway I know one of the things we’re doing in the fire services trying to reach kind of lean forward to high schools like with this Portland Metro fire camp program and give people a taste of that in being a firefighter’s outstanding job it’s it’s a great way to provide for your family and well most of our firefighters are coming with some level of college whether it’s two or four years or in some case we have we have folks that have had PhD’s that turnaround and become firefighters cause its a great job so we just need to increase the diversity of pathways and and the skills

20:01 DM – one more question on education a few years ago report out that accused PPS of purposeful discrimination in the process that seemed to send kids of college detention more often which affected their schooling and ultimately got the more detention and in adulthood more jail time a lot was made of this school to prison pipeline do you recognize this problem in PPS and and what would you do to address it statewide

20:24 DG – I think that that has been a problem in PPS I think were waking up to that on on a statewide level I think one of the most important things we can do if you go if you look at that percentages of teachers who are people of color indigenous theyre very low they don’t have folks that reflect them in the classrooms and that’s a problem so thats one of the proposals that I would love to explore more especially working with different groups of teachers and speaking of higher education where almost like an AmeriCorps program if you have of students of color who want to go into teaching they get either some cost abatement or sponsorships and they go to a public institution to get their teaching degree but then they commit to a certain time of teaching in Oregon’s public schools that’s been done in other states very successfully and I think it could help increase the diversity here and you know it creates more culturally conscious education just from the ground up

21:27 DM – 320 years and one month ago Oregon’s Cascadia subduction zone ruptured

21:37 DG – oh you’re in my Wheelhouse now

21:28 DM – and triggered a 9.0 earthquake seismologists say is one of three chance have another 9.0 earthquake in the next 50 years much of the transportation and infrastructure west of the Cascades may be destroyed if that earthquake comes do you feel either Oregon government or its citizens are doing enough to prepare

21:55 DG – (laughing) did I write this question for myself uh no were not but we’re working on it I think you know we are the only developed and I should say nonindigenous not looking back to indigenous times but modern European settler area in the in the world that hasnt experienced their own natural disaster when someone brought that up to me it was Dr. Chris Goldfinger at OSU I was like OMG she’s right so we don’t have that sort of collective consciousness in this state of oh my gosh that the ground the ground gonna shake and everything gonna get really bad we need to be funding shake alert and every year the legislature makes some noise about it but nothing I mean right now with the walkouts that are happening thats some legislation that staying there and that’s legislation that could save literally millions of people we need to come up with ways that are culturally informed and work with our our communities our more marginalized communities on seismic retrofitting that’s doesn’t displace people and we need to bolster our road systems because so my background um I have a background in emergency management and homeland security but I’ve done a lot of work on my and also the public safety commissioner for OSSPAC which is the Oregon seismic safety policy advisory commission and Don it’s bad I think you know it’s not gonna be like a movie like what was it San San Andreas with the rock where the grounds gonna open up and bridges are gonna collapse but were gonna see it’s not so much like what will happen at the time we will have you know several thousand deaths is what the models have shown in the city it’s what will come months and months out we are sitting in Portland on outside of this tsunami hazard at the coast were sitting in one of the greatest hazards in the state and that’s the uh the fuel station the fuel farm down on the river there none of those tanks at this point were built to withstand more than a 6.0 earthquake we are working thru OSSPAC we’ve made recommendations were were trying to sound the alarm but it’s hard to get people to care about something they can’t see or they don’t have some memory of

24:17 DM – I wanted to I would ask you about cap And trade Oregon Republican’s walked out of the legislature yesterday again because of cap And trade despite Democrats saying it was a very different bill from the one they said made them walkout last session as someone who believes in climate change what do you think it’ll take to get your conservative colleagues to agree with some version of cap And trade

24:40 DG – you know I don’t know because I looked at some of the amendments that were brought forward I know they’ve been meeting with folks at the coast some of the millworker at GP the Steelworkers on the concerns could those are a lot of the communities that are feeling the input having those conversations bringing bringing those folks to the table to help craft the legislation I frankly feel like the bill as it stands probably isn’t strong enough to make a really big difference if we were really in it be be bold on that we would be looking at carbon taxing but given what were seeing right now that’s not gonna happen some of the concerns I’ve heard you know one of that guys I work with his son owns a small business and they use diesel and he feels like you know his son in his trucking business is going to be punished more than some of these really large corporations so making sure that when we craft this legislation were looking with an equity lens at this and making sure that it that we don’t have exemptions for certain groups so I I don’t know a lot of the specifics one of them specifics I saw most recently was a buy Oregon provision which I thought was pretty neat so you know when we look at things that are coming up like Southwest corridor and building new infrastructure there then instead of buying or steel from overseas or from Canada were buying it from Oregon made suppliers and and that’s one way you it keeps those folks in business it’s reducing our carbon generation from shipping things from all over the world there is there’s a lot of win-win there and I think that labor has a really strong voice in this and help craft this and so do our industries that are being impacted on it

26:25 DM – you you have relatively new Facebook histogram and Twitter accounts you also have a LinkedIn account and webpage if you get into the legislature will you keep those accounts open and use them to connect with your constituents

26:38 DG – so I I have Facebook since 2008 but I have a Dacia Grayber, my official Dacia Grayber for state representative absolutely I have found in the last six months or less probably last two months I’ve had hundreds of new friends wanting requests and at a certain point we saw how it started being used in politics but I will always keep an open channel not only that I am committed to being out there I’m with different organizations people know who I am and I will continue to do that and be an open door

27:11 DM – on your Facebook page you said the campaign trail is inspiring and exhilarating even but it’s also exhausting often lonely it seems to me to politics and preparing for the political life might test you just as strongly as firefighting ever did are you and your family ready for it

27:28 DG – what I meant by that post is I am one of the few people I know who’s running for office who is continuing to work full-time and that is because my family we don’t have the option I can’t take time off I can’t like oh I’m going to go down to half time or take a leave of absence for this this is about bringing working family voices to the legislature cause and and not to diss anyone whose there we have wonderful people there but a lot of folks are either retired or there independently wealthy or they have the ability to to flex their work

28:02 DM – this is my last question why should Oregonians vote for you

28:05 DG – because I I’m brave and determined enough and I am I am an Oregonian I’m one of them I’m not somebody beholden to special interests I’m not someone who decided to do this is a vanity run my run is informed by the work that I do every day with everyday Oregonians and I see pathways to making things better my whole campaign we have a hashtag that I don’t know if we invented that we use #redefine possible and that to me is what this whole thing is about and what my service in the legislature will be where were not just doing business as usual we were trying to bring disparate voices to the table to come up with new meaningful solutions that are inclusive of everyone it’s about being you know and I recognize I may be wildly idealistic in this but I also you know I’ve survived in a career that wasn’t very welcoming the women for two decades whatever I may experience in politics bring it on

29:06 DM – Dacia Grayber is a Democrat she is running for Oregon House District 35 Ms Grayber thank you very much again

29:11 DG – thank you Don

29:13 DM – I’m Don Merrill thanks for listening

Written by Interviewer

March 3, 2020 at 17:21

Posted in Scratchpad

Transformation-Oriented Counterpublics

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While doing research for my book about the public radio pledge drive, I came across this quote from, “Public Radio and Television in America: A Political History” by Ralph Engelman.

Mr. Engelmen, in the conclusion of his book, was explaining whether or not Pacifica was trying to do too much by being totally self governing and at the same time, trying to give voice to all of the voiceless.  He quotes John Mclaughlin of the Mclaughlin Group, in 1994;

“Because so many social and economic inequalities cut across group interests and prevent the realization of a truly democratic public sphere, an effective strategy would seek unity amongst transformational-oriented counterpublics for a collective struggle, to form coalitions that extend beyond micropolitics.”

This sounds a lot like employing the in/out argument versus the left/right argument to find common ground between those for whom, on the surface, there seems to be no common ground.  I wanted to show that this idea, in the wake of the results of the presidential election, is not new thinking.  An earlier blogpost referred to how many in the media missed the groundswell for President-elect Donald Trump while also not noticing how many Trump supporters would’ve also voted for Bernie Sanders.  They wanted foundational change and they were looking at both ends of the political spectrum to get it.

These ideas probably just dive beneath the surface once they have served their purpose in earlier times and resurface into public consciousness when they are needed again.  Perhaps in the future,  news and public affairs programs will look for more of these non-traditional, counterintuitive connections.  Maybe finding them will spark more meaningful conversations across groups rather than on the echo chambers within groups.

Chain of Command

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Billy Bush’s cancelled appearance on NBC’s Today show is justified.  But let’s take a step back and look at this with a little more distance.

It’s likely what happened in the days leading up to that 2005 interview with Donald Trump was there was a lot of coordination between Trump’s people and Bush’s managers at Access Hollywood.  Mr. Trump and his “The Apprentice” were riding high in the ratings and no doubt the network really wanted his face on their program to nudge them even more.

Also no doubt, after that video was shot, everybody from the camera operator, to Mr. Bush, to someone above Mr. Bush’s in his chain of command watched the video in some edit bay somewhere.  Maybe several somebodys watched it.   We don’t know if that person or those people also snickered and laughed.  We do know Mr. Bush did.  And, as everyone who works in a company knows, management wants to know everything but wants deniability in case anything goes South.

We also know that video didn’t see the light of day until about 72 hours ago.  Until then, that video and everything it represented was kept like a family secret in Access Hollywood and NBC Universal until somebody looking to juice things up remembered to go through the archive searching for any file containing the keyword “Trump”.

Like any public relations disaster, the first people to fall are the footsoldiers, the expendables.  But over time, the wheels of corporate justice start to grind slowly forward like the gears in a Don Quxiote windmill and everybody gets outed.


Written by Interviewer

October 10, 2016 at 10:22

Social Engineering, Radio Style

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Mouth and Microphone

You can hear an announcer sound friendly.  It’s when the corners of their mouth go up in a smile as they talk.  You can actually hear it in your earbuds or speakers when it happens.  It’s tangible.  Just like you can hear when they inject a momentary laugh (that sounds almost like a stutter) into a sentence.  In both cases, the speaker is trying to connect with you emotionally because they’ve been trained that a happy announcer makes for a relaxed listener.

You’ll hear that very short laugh, most often, when the speaker has made a mistake, like if they mispronounce a word.  Almost instantly, you’ll hear the stutter laugh, which is deployed in a self-deprecating manner that says, “I’m human and I made a mistake. Isn’t that funny?”   It’s interesting that so many announcers do it considering they are also trained to not draw attention to mistakes.  But you’ll also hear that laugh when the announcer is trying to grease a thought that will help you slide along beside their intention.  For instance, if a news reader is talking about a non profit’s mission that they believe in, although they can’t say so, they may unconsciously give a stutter laugh that quickly says, “This thing is good”, thus sending a flash message that it’s worth your consideration.

I also hear the stutter laugh is when the announcer, host or interviewer has a degree of contempt for something they’ve just heard or read.  But most professionals are savvy enough to know that also sends a quick and clear message that could cause the audience to question their credibility and impartiality (if their audience cares about such things), so they don’t use that laugh as much.  Often, I hear it used somewhere in a statement to add a momentary bit of levity to that statement.  And sometimes, I hear it when the speaker is reacting to something that either is or isn’t funny, but only mildly so.  But in almost all cases, it’s not about humor.

The smiling behind the mic is a little more involved.  Admittedly, when I hear someone who sounds technically proficient but low on emotion versus someone who sounds warm, I gravitate to the warmth.  In most situations where someone you can’t see is talking through a smile, they’re going to sound warm.  The thing about that is even though it sounds really sincere, you couldn’t get away with it in person.

There’s this thing called the Facial Action Coding System, which was developed back in the 1970s.  It identified every muscle of the face and created a matrix of combinations that identified almost every human emotion depending on which muscles you moved.  Whether the test subjects actually felt the emotions that gave them the faces, or whether they forced the faces, the emotions, strangely, followed.

But faked emotions don’t work when you’re facing another human being because we’re way too sophisticated to be fooled by feelings that aren’t real even if all the right muscles are pulled.  We add body language and vocal quality to facial expressions to help us calculate the honesty of the person we’re talking to.  In interviews where people are sitting across from each other and feelings are faked, you can hear the conversation fall like a cinder block into a cow pasture.

You can only pull off false sincerity if nobody can see you (though, political campaigns would seem to contradict this).  That’s different from a conversation that both people are clearly enjoying.  There, you can hear the goodwill and the smiles are not fake.  I’m not talking about that.  I’m talking about the other thing; a solo announcer talking to and trying to somehow sway, the coveted “you”.

Talking through smiles and stutter laughs are two tools people behind microphones use to connect with you.  And most likely, they use them so well, you hardly notice because they’re designed to set you at ease, not raise your awareness.  These people don’t know you, but they want you to feel like they do (or would want to).  Because in the world of broadcasting, where a successful connection means money or feet on the street, that’s good enough.

Written by Interviewer

March 22, 2016 at 05:14

How to Be Smooth

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Wireless Microphone

This is a quickie.

TV and radio are technical professions.  Everybody depends on everybody else for a smooth outcome.  Mistakes happen; lights burn out, things fall over, the wrong button gets pushed, a graphic disappears, a computer crashes.  But when they happen, people work to make them as unnoticable as possible.  That doesn’t always happen.  Reporters, anchors and hosts get caught off guard by flubs, both those of other people and their own.  They might apologize, do double takes, start something over, laugh or do any one of a thousand things people do when they’re surprised.

But being smooth is part of being professional, and sometimes, someone is so simply casual about fixing a fix that you have to admire them for it.  Such was the case with KOIN’s Sally Showman this morning.  At the 8:30 local news, traffic and weather break, the camera cut to her giving her weather forecast.  Her lips were moving but nothing was coming out.  There was a problem with her audio.  And smoothly, almost unnoticably, she reached around behind her own back, switched on her wireless microphone, and, as they say in the Army, “continued to march.”

How did she know we couldn’t hear her?  Possibly someone on the studio floor motioned to her that her mic wasn’t working.  Maybe (if she was wearing an earpiece), the director told her to turn it on.  But considering the blooper tapes I’ve seen in my life, even pros can sometimes make something as simple as pushing a button look like a Steve Martin routine.

Live broadcasting is an acquired skill.  It is a dance; gear, people, timing and electronics all choreographed while you drink your coffee.  You’ve seen so many dances that you, discerning audience that you are, know when somebody is stumbling.  So, when there’s a problem, it’s not enough to just fix it.  The fix must also be as ordinary as it is elegant.


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February 11, 2016 at 00:01

When Someone You’ve Interviewed Dies

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Microphone and Ribbon

Robert LeVoy Finicum died on Highway 395 late yesterday afternoon, somewhere between the towns of Burns and John Day, Oregon.  Mr. Finicum was the spokesperson for the occupiers at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.  Eight others were arrested.  As of yet, law enforcement has not given any details about what transpired on that highway.

This post was inspired by OPBs host of it’s midday news program, “Think Outloud”.  Dave Miller talked with Mr. Finicum twice in the last week about the standoff at the refuge.   This isn’t about the developments at the refuge.  Readers can find that in a number of other places, especially at the OPB website.

This is about when someone you’ve interviewed dies.  And of course, I can’t speak to what Mr. Miller may or may not be feeling in the wake of Mr. Finicum’s death.  But I can talk about my own experience and it has only happened to me once.  In 1980, I was stationed at Ft. Devens, MA, which was about 35 miles west of Boston via Route 2A.  I was a new Army Broadcaster and my first job was to operate the post’s closed circuit radio station, WFDB.  But I wasn’t content with playing the impressive collection of albums and 45s.  And when I found a 1976 Billboard Talent Directory, I knew what I was going to do.

I started calling promoters and agents of stars who were performing in Boston.  I told them I represented a military audience of several thousand (the number of active duty at Ft. Devens) and it worked.  In my year there, I interviewed A-listers of the day; Harry Chapin, Kenny Rogers, Bob James, Gladys Knight and Kool and the Gang.  Kool was a phone interview.  I talked to Mr. Rogers as part of a press pool in Manchester, N.H.  Mr. James and Ms. Knight and the Pips performed at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston.  I talked with Mr. Chapin on May 31, 1981.  He was performing at Chateau DeVille in Framingham.

Mr. Chapin, I remember, was clearly stoned.  But he was funny and warm and genuine.  Coming and going to the interview, I was singing every song of his in my head that I knew; Cats in the Cradle, Taxi, She’s Always Seventeen, W.O.L.D. and others.  I was thrilled to talk with him.  And I rushed back to edit and play our conversation on the cable radio station.  About eight years later, I loaned the tape to a co-worker at one of my broadcasting assignments and absent-mindedly forgot to get it back before I left the service.

Anyway, about six weeks later, on July 17, 1981, I heard that Harry Chapin had been killed when his little car pulled in front of a fast moving semi-tractor trailer on the Long Island Expressway.  I was stunned.  I’d grown up with his music.  Cats in the Cradle, especially, had a big effect on me and my Dad.  I think it’s a song many sons and fathers have in their minds whenever life changes their relationship.

Hearing about his death, it felt weird.  An interview is like a speed date.  It’s not like somebody you pass on the street or see everyday on the bus.  But it’s not like you’re exactly good friends either.  It’s somewhere in the middle.  You get to know people deeply and intimately, but quickly.  And just as quickly, you may never see them again.  It’s kind of a shock to think that you were just laughing at this person’s jokes, admiring (or being intimidated by) their work ethic, or noticing a tell or some personal mannerism that makes them uniquely them … something other people might not have noticed.

And then, they’re gone.

Mr. Chapin’s death changed how I looked at life.  I could die like that.  I could die at any time.  Everything I plan could go unfinished.  I might not die in my sleep or surrounded by loved ones or saving someone else’s life.   It made me ask harder questions like what should I be doing and how much shit will I put up with from others in my own life?

And his death changed how I would do interviews in the future.  I would not ask pedantic questions because every second with someone with a story to tell is a gift and every question needed to answer somebody’s else’s question.  I would tell them how much I admired whatever they excelled at but not gush because they get enough of that and they have to be somewhere else soon enough.  I would research the hell out of them so they knew I did my homework and could feel respected by the effort on my part.  And I would always try to remember to show my appreciation by saying “thank you” for their time.

Someone like Terry Gross or Charlie Rose has probably figured a way to ease themselves through the loss of someone they’ve come to know through a good, long talk.  Like I said, it’s only happened to me once.  I don’t know how many times it’s happened to Mr. Miller.

But every brutal goodbye is a rough one.

Propaganda, Cowboy Style

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Shot Up Flag

I am working on a project that I don’t really have time to interrupt.  Except here I am doing it because I have found a quote that so exquisitely explains what is happening in Malheur county near Burns, Oregon, that I just have to share it.

As you may know, armed militants, protesters, occupiers or patriots (depending on to what degree you agree or disagree with their intentions) have taken over a Federal Wildlife Refuge.  Their trigger was the arrest of a father and son for setting fire to federal lands and being sent to prison a second time after a court ruled the time they initially spent in jail for the crime wasn’t sufficient.

And their ultimate goal may be to go out in a blaze of glory; a combination of Waco, Texas and Timothy McVeigh with the intention of starting a new Sagebrush Rebellion to sweep across the west.  But their stated reason, today, for remaining at the refuge, today, includes convincing local farmers and ranchers that the land upon which the refuge sits belongs to them, the true owners, not the federal government.

There are many tangents to that line of thinking, including how, if you want to get technical, it is the Paiute Indians; the 13,000 year prior residents who may have the ultimate, bonafide claim.  Another tangent is how, an armed group of white men can commandeer a federal facility with police, sheriffs, marshals, FBI and military within spitting distance and nobody gets shot.  But an unarmed and innocent black man in any one of a dozen U.S. cities can be shot by police because the officers feel their lives “were in danger”.

And then, there is the Constitutional interpretation, which unfortunately, like the Bible, can be interpreted to mean anything by those believing they are the chosen ones to interpret it.

But I digress.

Back in 1961, during a seminar hosted by the National Educational Association of Broadcasters, University of Illinois, Urbana faculty member Harry Skornea told a story about his work in East Germany just after the Berlin Wall went up:

“This reminds me of 1948 when I struggled a good deal with the organization of a news department for RIAS (Radio In The American Sector) in Berlin. The blockade was starting and our people were trying to set up a good news department that would cause the people to listen to RIAS instead of the much more powerful East Berlin station. And one of the things that I thought they were doing wrong and which we finally were able to put a stop to was that, good as our news department was, the communists were using us, or manipulating us. When one of the East German leaders, Grotewohl or someone else would speak, or when there would be an enormous rally in Leipzig, our newsmen would be real proud of the fact that they were able to cover it.” 

“And I said, “Don’t you realize that in a great many cases these meetings are being staged precisely so you will cover them and report them?  And that you’re being used time after time?  You’ve got to have the courage not to cover certain things which have propaganda implications, because unless you’re extremely perceptive, you may be lending yourself to their nefarious ends.  And I think that in a great many cases, we fail to recognize the extent to which things we relay are “managed” in some way or other by people who are a little bit more skillful than we are, and I think we are going to have to begin to screen more carefully ourselves”.

The news cycle is such a circular heroin injection and any news porn that fills the seconds is considered to be serving the highest standards of the Society of Professional Journalists, or at least the drooling demands of advertisers.  But does telling the public all about it all the time make them informed such that they will solve the problem without, as Oregon Governor Kate Brown lamented regarding the Malheur situation, “tearing themselves apart”?  Can it make the perpetrators think about the philosophy of the matter at a depth deeper than their ego without making them laugh so hard that they piss themselves?

Or does it just make journalists punks?


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This isn’t about interviews.  It is about somebody who does interviews.  But it’s not about the interviews they do.  It’s about something else.

A good friend of mine is a high ranking public affairs officer at the Environmental Protection Agency.  She’s been there for more than 10 years.  She’s held numerous positions.  She’s excellent at her job.  Everybody knows and respects her work.

She’s a badass.

She told me recently that she applied for a job that she didn’t get.

“I think the job was “wired”.
“Yeah, you know, when there’s a direct connection that you can’t see because it’s hidden behind a wall”.

Apparently, federal hiring managers often announce a vacancy but already have someone in mind.  So they skirt rules of the Office of Personnel Management by making the public notice of the vacancy very short (there are no federal regulations for how long a vacancy must be listed on USAJobs), tailoring the job requirements very tightly and then, interview applicants which, by design, are few.  Then, when the interviews close, they hire who they always intended.  They were never going to hire anyone else but they had to follow the process to make it look fair.

She says she gets it.  It’s a good ole’ boys network, and most of the hires are white men.  Even here in Portland, city government just today instituted a new policy that requires commissioners to interview at least one qualified minority candidate, female candidate and candidate with a disability for bureau director and other top positions. It seems the last seven hires were middle aged white men.

Bad optics.

So it’s not just a Federal tendency.  She says after the position closed, people pulled her aside to say it wasn’t about her.  They just wanted somebody they felt comfortable with, whatever that meant.

Of course, she didn’t know what really went on about her or her qualifications.  Apparently there was a split vote and a spirited discussion.  And for a moment, she thought she, a black woman, might break through.  But when a well informed friend used the word “wired” as part of the autopsy, she knew.  And she felt a little betrayed.

The EPA, like a lot of Federal agencies, is now required to see the world through what it calls a “diversity lens”.  New terminology for an old ideal.  When I worked for the feds, walls of my agency were blanketed with mission statements and policy letters that screamed its best self.  Now she’s come to believe that deep down, every organization secretly likes the taste of chaw.  She started humming the “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”.  We laughed about it.

Apparently, companies of all sorts are inconsiderate like this all the time.

Wired.  I’d never heard of such a thing.

If you have, tell me about it.