Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘candidate

How Was I?

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People can be sweet.  I say that because I can’t remember how many times, after an interview, somebody looks at me with all sincerity and innocence and asks how they did?  Did their answers make sense?  Did they sound like they knew what they were talking about.  “You won’t make me sound stupid, will you?”

At these moments, it’s my job to reassure them.  “No, of course you didn’t sound stupid.”  “You’re here because you’re the expert.”  “It’s not my job to make you sound bad.”  It is my job, though, to honestly present them to the audience.  To do otherwise would be doing a disservice to them and listeners.

I once interviewed a candidate for a state office in Oregon.  This person was registered with the Secretary of State, along with a slate of qualified and assumedly, highly confident and competent competitors.  But, this person was not confident.  And as we talked, they showed their utter lack of knowledge on the most basic issues someone running for that office would need to at least be familiar with.  At the end, they asked me how they did.  I asked them how long they had been considering their run before they decided to do it.  It was a decision they had made against the advice of family and friends.  As for the reason why they sought this office, I didn’t get a clear answer either in the pre-interview, during the conversation or afterwards.

I aired the interview.  Another candidate won the office.  But still, I didn’t see it as my job to present them in any way other than how they presented themselves.  And though I tried to be gentle in my review, the fact is, they didn’t bring the goods and they sat themselves down in front of my microphone.

Everytime, an interviewer has to be professional and most times, kind.  But you can’t always protect people from themselves.

Written by Interviewer

December 27, 2016 at 07:03

Fer it before he wuz agin it

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Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush told Megyn Kelly on Fox News that he, along with many people in the Senate in 2001, would’ve done exactly what his brother, former President Bush did when confronted with 911; pursue a course of war.  That was certainly a clear answer.  But later, Mr. Bush, while being interviewed by Sean Hannity, said he didn’t understand the question as it was posed by Ms. Kelly, called it a” hypothetical” and said he didn’t know what he would’ve done.

Perhaps supporters of the war who are also Bush’s supporters put pressure on him to recant.  But his follow up is one of those things that make you go, hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm …

But before it looks like this is bagging on Jeb Bush, consider:
– said Rand Paul was against the Drug War before he was for it
– The New American says General Norman Schwartzkopf was against the 1991 Gulf War before he was for it
– says John Kerry was for the Iraq war before he was against it
– Fox News says former Senator and Presidential candidate John Edwards was for the war in Iraq before he was against it.
– The Daily Kos says Mitt Romney was for the Vietnam War before he was against it.
– Outside the Beltway says Senator John McCain was for trading taliban prisoners for Army Sgt. Beau Bergdahl before he was against it
– Wizbangblog says former President Bill Clinton was for the war in Iraq before he was against it.
– says Paul Ryan was for the war in Syria before he was against it
– Foreign Policy magazine says President Obama says he was against the authorization for the war before he was for it
– says former Vice President Dick Cheney was against the Iraq was before he was for it …

… and on and on.

Clearly, Mr. Bush doesn’t want to throw his brother under the bus for the 12-year Iraq War.  But you don’t hear Republicans speaking of George W. with the same reverence of Ronald Reagan.  That says something about how party faithful on the right see the Bush Doctrine.

The larger point is politicians change their minds for their own reasons like all of the rest of us.  Except when we do it, it isn’t necessarily a judgement on our character or mental faculties.  It won’t necessarily destroy our lives or give people license to judge us for the rest of our lives because we were human.

Interviewers need to bring up inconsistencies like this during subsequent interviews.  To not is to deny constituents, whether they’re listening to business leaders or politicians, the opportunity to truly understand their thought process.  And once recants like this are being discussed, the interviewer needs to press the question to the edge of journalistic decorum.

Calling the Media’s Hand

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Big Kanuna

Sometimes, as media and journalists, we can get caught in our own rules of fairness.

I don’t have a good handle on why some media outlets focus solely on major party candidates during forums in advance of presidential, general and off year elections. Maybe it’s got to do with polling and how the issues of third party candidates aren’t always the same main issues as they are for the majors. Maybe it’s got to do with the influence of the majors who want the punch bowl all to themselves and more or less convince the media through ad buys that they deserve it. Maybe it’s got to do with the fact that the numbers of the minors don’t come close to those of two party candidates and so, the media – a numbers driven concern – makes an economic decision that the largest audience comes from those who capture the largest numbers. I don’t know.

But I do know the standards of Sigma Delta Chi, which is the organization for the Society of Professional Journalists. And its stated missions are (1) to promote and defend the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press; (2) encourage high standards and ethical behavior in the practice of journalism; and (3) promote and support diversity in journalism. So when Third Party candidate Jason Levin crashed a debate between only Democratic Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Republican challenger Dennis Richardson at the editorial offices of the Pamplin Media Group on September 23rd, it was kinda what the latter three deserved.

Political forums are not private love-ins. They should be more like racous holiday dinners where the whole family is at the table.  Of course, maybe that’s just me.  I happen to like the idea of the unpredictable and the un-anointed peeing in the sacred pool.  That’s why although I think weather modeling and the Dow Jones Industrial 30-day average are cute, they show us every day that we have no idea what will or should happen next.  I root not for the havoc, but the humbling.

Besides, if Oregon’s Ballot Measure 90 passes, getting a seat at that table may be even more difficult for third party candidates in the future. Congratulations to Mr. Levin for having the kahunas to pull out his own chair and forcing forum hosts to put their journalistic principles above whatever it was that made them initially not.

I Can’t Help You

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This is a quickie.

In the course of these interviews with political candidates, I have had ocassion to interview some folks who don’t always know what they want to say or how they want to say it.  I completely understand that.  Many times, I have several thoughts going through my mind at once and I often have to make me pause long enough to time the traffic lights in my head.  And sometimes, some people are just a little overwhelmed and could use a teeny bit of help.

But some political candidates don’t realize that it is absolutely … and let me say that again, … it is absolutely their responsibility to know what they want to say before they sit down in front of a microphone.  This is important for several reasons.

First, if you want the people’s confidence and, by virtue, their vote, they need to know you can organize critical thought.  They need to see you know how to mentally put one foot in front of the other.  In other words, how do you think when you’re not under pressure.

Next, they need to see that you can think on your feet.  That you can grab facts and concepts from the air and knit them together in response to unexpected questions.  In other words, how do you think when you are under pressure?

Then, you need to show you are able to stay focused on the question while you’re thinking of your answer.  Consistently drifting off or losing your place does not instill confidence in voters.

Then, you need to show them that you have understanding of an issue or at least the savvy to know how to beg off until you can learn more.  Have you researched it?  Has your staff looked into it?  Do you care?

Then, that you can answer the question that was asked, not just repeat your talking points over and over.  Interviewers aren’t stupid and neither is the public.  We hate that.

And finally, that you can be cool under pressure.  That you can defend yourself and your ideas with aplomb, not dripping with passive aggressiveness.  Nobody likes bitchy from anybody.

All of these are important, autonomous skills that the candidate must have mastered because there will be times, in office, when they will choose to go against the prevailing wind and endure unimaginable pressure from enemies, friends and constituents in business and colleagues in other branches of government.  The voter must believe they can stand alone when they must.

So, when I’m asking a candidate a question that I think, because of the office they have registered for they should certainly be able to answer, and they give me a deer in the headlights look because one of these things either has or hasn’t happened, there is nothing I can (or will) do to save them.

Because these people want you to trust them with your money.  They want you to let them do things in your name.  They want you to give them the authority to shape your life and the lives of the people you love and care about for years into the future.  If they can’t handle a few questions, listeners should seriously think about whether they can handle anything more.

Written by Interviewer

May 7, 2014 at 23:42


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This is a quickie.

First, go here –

I’ve interviewed Jo Rae Perkins.  And I have been working to set up interviews with Mr. Conger.  Although I contacted all of the candidates for the race mentioned in this news story, I only followed up with those that showed any interest.

Though I’m not sure I would poke a candidate about the Easter Bunny because I was incredulous about their views over climate change, I understand when a reporter faces an interviewee that can be, to some degree, unpalatable.  You can find some of those posts here and here.

I always wonder how personal, familiar, jocular or whatever to get with interviewees.  I don’t know these people.  And knowing what I know about human ego in general and my own ego in particular, I’ve decided that when left w/the choice to say something snarky or keep my mouth shut, I’ll keep my mouth shut.  It doesn’t mean that some people, sometimes, don’t give me plenty of runway to say something absolutely and deliciously shitty.  But, what does it get me?  I mean, I may conclude that a candidate is a jerk.  But if I deny the audience the chance to decide that for themselves through my work, I don’t think I’ve served them.

Only the people in that room know how Mr. Callahan responded.  There is one way to say he felt Ms. Perkins wasn’t getting her respect and to demand his own.  And there is another way.  Just like there is one way to say you don’t agree with a candidate’s position, and there is another. And as I find me moving through another very large journalism related project, I am reminded of how important it is to treat people cordially.  I need stuff.  I have questions.  And if I act like an ass, my requests find their way to the bottom of the stack.

What I’m saying is, journalists are people too.

And BTW, Ms. Perkins stayed for the interview.  It seems she wasn’t nearly as bothered by the “blah, blah, blah” as Mr. Callahan was.

Written by Interviewer

May 3, 2014 at 05:04

Good Stuff

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Last night was the last of three, live candidate forums I moderated.  Two candidates for US Congress showed.  Tuesday night, three gubernatorial candidates came.  And Monday night, eight legislative candidates (four vying for the same district) were there.  This whole process of being immersed in politics was nothing planned.

It started with me annoyed that the federal government was doing so much illegal surveillance of ordinary citizens.  So I built a website to give people more direct access to their state constitutions –

Then, I got the idea to interview political candidates in advance of the 2014 state elections.  In many cases, the parties anoint who they want to be the frontrunners and the smaller candidates with no money and no name recognition get no exposure from the media.  I wanted to change that and give them all a voice.  Of the 283 candidates that filed their candidacy on the Secretary of State’s website, I’ve interviewed about 40 of them since December 2013.

Those led to the idea of having debates between candidates running for different branches of government.  And come June, after the Secretary of State opens filing to third party candidates like the Greens or the Constitution Party,  I’ll probably repeat the process over for them who get even less love.

I’ve learned a lot about government, what it aspires to be and what it often is.  And that has made me both discouraged and encouraged.  Most people who want to be judges care because they know the judicial system can be intimidating.  Most people who want to be lawmakers are not greedy, self-centered whores of moneyed interests.  By contrast, they are passionate about serving their neighbors and trying to make a better world.  And most people running for governor are clear thinkers capable of making truly executive decisions that try to balance the reason of courts against the passion of the legislature.

Before this project, I would’ve dismissed politics as an impediment to people trying to conduct their day to day lives.  But now, I see it as a process that is absolutely essential to be at least aware of, if not engaged with. It is your right to not engage.  But I’ve learned that if you have that kind of apathy, other people who don’t have your best interest in mind, will engage in your name for their own benefit.  They will sponge your resources, make your decisions and they will affect your life in ways that you will only accidently discover when you day to day runs into their deaf, ubiquitous and unyielding bureaucracy.

Written by Interviewer

May 2, 2014 at 05:59