Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Rose

Time versus Carefulness

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program-clock

There was an interesting conflict between broadcasting necessity and journalistic necessity this morning on CBS This Morning.  Susanne Craig and David Barstow, both reporters of the NY Times, co-wrote a story which they broke about the taxes of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Apparently, Ms. Craig discovered three pages of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax return in her NY Times mailbox.  After she and Mr. Barstow verified the authenticity of the pages with the tax professional that actually prepared the return the pages seemed to come from, the reporters released the story.  The reporters were asked if they feared legal consequences for writing the story based on documents Mr. Trump’s campaign said were obtained “illegally”.  They responded that a  tenet of journalism is that if a reporter does nothing to solict the receipt of such documents and they are verified as true, they can report the story as factual and be held harmless.

Ms. Craig spoke succinctly and briefly about how she got the documents, while Mr. Barstow was extremely measured in how he talked about conversations with staff attorneys, odd presentations of numbers on the form itself and getting the preparer to verify his work.

But because he took so much time carefully going through those aspects of the story, Charlie Rose and Gayle King began getting cues from their director that time was running out and that they need to wrap so the show could go to a break.

It was ironic that the journalists at that table, all of which were seeking the truth in the spirit of the First Amendment, were also essentially at odds over the amount of time available to tell that truth.

The chasm between TV news and newspaper reporting has been an open secret for decades.  If you notice, TV people are often reading stories written by newspaper people.  Newspapers reporting has been and remains the backbone of American journalism while TV is the compromise that adds pictures and speeds things up while removing much of the useful nutritional information.

I understand the program clock.  I understand affiliates down the line waiting their turn to insert local news, weather and traffic.  And I understand the need to make sure advertiser’s commercials get aired since ultimately, that’s the fount from which everything flows.

It just made me a little sad that such an important story was abbreviated.  To read the full, fascinating article at your leisure, visit http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/politics/donald-trump-taxes.html

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The Video Appears to Show an Explosion

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Dubai Explosion

Has TV news and its newscasters become so pre-occupied with qualification that they don’t trust anything?

This morning, Charlie Rose of CBS This Morning was reporting on the explosion of a Boeing 777 in Dubai.  The circumstances of why the jet was on the tarmac with apparently broken landing gear was unclear.  It was explained in an earlier report that the jet has an excellent safety record.  In that report, the correspondent said that only an analysis of the black box would show what happened.

But, a jet with its fusalage on a runway would appear to indicate a very hard landing.  Of course, since we don’t know why the fusalage was on the ground, there are other possibilities, like maybe the landing gear failed during a normal landing.  If you’ve seen the video though, you might be thinking, “That’s ridiculous.  Of course a hard landing broke the landing gear.”

Yes, of course.

So, later in the report, when Mr. Rose says “Video appears to show an explosion …” as the the left wing is blown into the air and the fusalage is engulfed in flames, I realized my head was tilted in confusion.

Appears?  Was the video a YouTube fake?  A computer simulation?  Nope, it’s pretty clear that this was an actual jet airliner blowing itself to smitherines and burning itself to a crisp.

There is a criticism of news these days of how, in order to be “balanced”, it presents both sides of an argument even if those argurers are not equally yoked, credentialed or experienced.  A crackpot is paired with a scholar in an effort to appease everyone in the audience and meet the ideal of journalistic objectivity.  This wrinkle in professional broadcasting ethics is still being worked out.

But when something explodes with smoke and fire and 300 people escape from it before it kills any of them, that’s not appearances.

That’s real.

Written by Interviewer

August 3, 2016 at 22:37

You Gotta Be Schitting Me

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Shit Creek

American culture can be weird.  For example, the second season of the CBS comedy, “Schitt’s Creek” was previewed in an interview with its two top billed stars, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on CBS This Morning.  The show name was plastered on plasma TV screens all over the studio.  Yet everyone at the table, including three professional journalists, were straining to avoiding saying the title, which is a wordplay on a profanity.

Americans love to be tittilated (whoopsie).  Whether it’s going to the ballet to see who’s going to fall, watching sports waiting for the next big hit or following political debates to see who is going to have the next Lloyd Bentsen moment.  But this is a little confusing, because in this case, tittilation would be if the actual word, “shit” was being used or skirted, not a substitute for the word.

I used to live in Utah, and its residents had the same relationship with the word, “fuck”.  In my twelve years there, I saw the substitutes for “fuck” mutate from “flip” to “frick” to “fudge” – all “f” words.  It seemed that as a version got too closely associated with the real profanity, a new one replaced it and moved into the vocabulary.  I used to fantasize that someday, it would return to “fuck”.  I wonder what it is now.

The late George Carlin, a master at comedy that emphasized such wordplay, used to eat this stuff for breakfast.  Carlin, as you may remember, was named in a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case between the FCC and the Pacifica radio network that forever enshrined the seven dirty words you couldn’t say in broadcasting.  They are, for the record and in mostly alphabetical order, “cocksucker”, “cunt”, “fuck”, “motherfucker”, “piss”, “tits” and of course, “shit”.

In an HBO comedy special, Carlin himself made fun of people’s discomfort with the actual words, commenting that at one point, a man asked him to remove motherfucker from his routine.  Carlin said, “He says motherfucker is a duplication of the word fuck, technically, because fuck is the root form, motherfucker being derivative; therefore, it constitutes duplication. And I said, ‘Hey, motherfucker, how did you get my phone number, anyway?'”

He later added the word back to his routine, claiming the bit’s rhythm didn’t work without it.  Carlin made fun of each word; for example, he would say that tits should not be on the list because it sounds like a nickname for a snack (“New Nabisco Tits! …corn tits, cheese tits, tater tits!”).

Maybe, after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl and the subsequent hiking of indecency fines by the FCC from 35-thousand dollars to more than 300-thousand dollars per violation, U.S. radio and TV networks got religion and all forms and flavors.  But it’s a little like the Simpsons episode where Bart is in the back seat yelling the word “bitch” and Homer grits his teeth because Marge says, “Homey, it is the name of a female dog.”

Hey CBS, own it.

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.

A Stumble at the Gate

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Horses at Gate

Jay Carney, former White House press secretary, showed why the transition from government to private business spokesperson isn’t always a smooth one.

Carney was interviewed by CBS This Morning in response to a New York Times article by reporter Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld about “dystopian” working conditions at Amazon. The report talked of employees in tears after meetings or at their desks. And although Kantor spoke about some of the positive aspects of the company, including its innovation, she defended the reports that Amazon’s culture encouraged employees to tear apart each other’s ideas in a effort to create an atmosphere of “unreasonably high” standards.

Carney told the anchor desk that he has held the job of corporate spokesperson at Amazon for five months. But he said neither he, nor Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos or many of the other people with whom he works recognized the company portrayed in Kantor and Streitfeld’s report. That mirrored the language in an Amazon press release but was not a firm enough rebuttal of the allegations for anchors Gayle King and Clarissa Ward.

Carney stumbled often as he defended Amazon’s role and history as an innovator. When Ward and King pressed him on whether the allegations were true, Carney essentially said that employees who didn’t like the culture at Amazon were free to leave, noting that the attrition rate for the company was similar to the attrition rate for other large American companies.

When King specifically addressed a charge in the NYT story that Amazon does not offer maternity leave to its women, Carney admitted that there was no maternity leave but justified that by the fact that 80% of US companies also do not provide it.

When Carney was a White House spokesperson, his responses were crisp because government spokespeople tend to be limited by government officials in what they can say. Saying too little or just enough in press conferences is the rule of the day because it reduces the amount of backtracking or embarrassment if they’re wrong later. As a corporate spokesperson, the crisis communication goal is to try to get ahead of the story and smash as much defense into an answer as possible, no matter the question. Several times, the anchors tried to stop Carney from the all too common corporate defense ramble.

But the message itself was a problem. Parents may recognize Carney’s responses to Amazon’s issues with attrition and maternity leave in conversations they have with their kids. “Everybody else is doing it”, is not a justification for a company that constantly claims to hold itself to a higher standard.

Jay Carney was the 29th White House press secretary. He served in that position from September 2005 until November 2008, and he was a regular contributor in the “roundtable” segment of ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos. But as this CBS This Morning interview shows, some skills are not as transferable as they seem.

Spinal Injury or Broken Neck?

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Broken Neck

It matters what words reporters use.

Charlie Rose of CBS This Morning has been the only news person I’ve heard use the words “Broken Neck” to refer to the injuries received by Freddie Gray.  In case you don’t know, Gray was arrested by Baltimore police a few weeks ago for a misdemeanor.  But by the time witnesses saw him being moved to a police vehicle, he was being dragged.  His body was rigid and he was screaming in obvious pain.

Police said they failed to summon medical help and they failed to buckle him in with seat belts as they transported him using a technique they call, a “rough ride.”  Hearing that, I’m not sure if they were saying the unrestrained ride caused his injuries and they then failed to call for medical help, or he sustained injuries during the arrest and their failure to buckle him down before the ride aggravated those injuries for which they failed to call medical help.

Regardless, he died in a hospital shortly there after from what the media tended to describe as everything from a neck injury to a spinal injury to a partially severed spine.

It also matters why reporters use the words they use, which makes this is a good place to talk about sanitizing language and what I consider a most egregious use.  “Sever” is a French word derived from an older Latin word which means to “remove by or as if by cutting.”  Unless police tried to cut Mr. Gray’s head off with some sort of blade, his spine was not severed.  But sever sounds a lot softer than saying his neck was broken.  Police breaking necks sort of puts them in the category of Family Guy or Robot Chicken episodes, which doesn’t do a lot for public relations.

If making people feel better is the point for media, why don’t we call school shootings “secondary educational institution incursions” or call plane crashes “compromised airfoil equipment incidents?”

Do some media not want to inflame passions in the streets?  Do they not want to the call out those “bad apples” who admittedly don’t follow procedure, until a final report is issued?  Do they not want to cause more pain and suffering to friends and family of victims?

Or are some truths just too truthful?

It would be nice if our designated media wordsmiths actually used the right ones.  Thank you Mr. Rose.

Written by Interviewer

April 30, 2015 at 00:38

True Levity

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Countdown Clock

You often see TV news hosts chatting each other up in an effort to sound homey or accessible.  Sometimes, these fall flat and are marked by awkward silence or even more awkward conversation.  But sometimes, it’s sincere as it was this morning on the CBS This Morning newscast.

Host Jeff Glor announced a story introducing the upcoming NFL Football season and a graphic showing a countdown clock came up on the screen.  It showed that the start of the season was 148 days away.  As the music played and the digital clock counted, you could hear the incredulity in the anchor’s voices.

Their chatter was more like a cacophony as they talked over each other, unable to believe that the network was promoting the start of something that was almost six months away with the urgency that it was breaking news.

Yes, CBS is their employer, and yes, the NFL is a huge sponsor.  But this was so ridiculous that even they couldn’t take it seriously.

Now that was true levity.

Written by Interviewer

April 22, 2015 at 22:00