Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘China

The Death Toll Continues to Rise

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Chinese Explosion

This is a quickie.

At 7 a.m. PST, the West Coast version of CBS This Morning reported on the explosions at a chemical plant in China.  They said that 50 people had been killed.  At 1 p.m. PST, NPR News reported the death toll at that chemical plant was 50 and climbing.  At 7 p.m. PST, NPR News reported again that the death toll was 50.

The later newscast didn’t say the death toll was climbing and it didn’t give a higher number of deaths.  In fact, as of the later NPR newscast, the death toll seemed to have remained unchanged throughout the day.

But it is the earlier NPR newscast I am writing about.  If a death toll is 50 “and climbing”, how did NPR News know it was climbing?  And if it was climbing, shouldn’t the number have been some greater number other than 50?

It is very likely that there are people in extremely critical condition who probably will not survive.  But as of the later newscast, they apparently hadn’t yet died and their deaths hadn’t been reflected in updated numbers.  So I don’t know why, against available evidence and reporting, NPR News said the number was climbing.

Written by Interviewer

August 14, 2015 at 10:11

The Stutter Step

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stutter step

This is a quickie.

Kai Ryssdal is the host of Marketplace on American Public Media.  He is interviewing Jack Lew, the Secretary of the Treasury and clearly channeling the American consumer, taxpayer & citizen.  Mr. Lew is bullish on the economy.  Kai Ryssdal is pushing him as to why it seems the economy is still dragging.  Mr. Lew says people don’t forget quickly when they lose significant pieces of their lives like houses and jobs.  Fair enough.

But Kai also challenged Mr. Lew when he said businesses are waiting to reinvest in the economy.  Kai said we’ve been hearing for years that businesses need to reinvest but they aren’t.  What’s it going to take?

And finally, he called Mr. Lew on how, whether or not the US gets “upset”, applies sanctions and finds the things Russia, China, Syria, North Korea, et al, does unacceptable – does it mean anything and does it help or hurt US credibility in the world when it seems to US actions seem to not matter. FYI, Mr. Ryssdal can be a clown sometimes, but he can also quickly turn to a viper.

Anyway, in response to those last two, I heard it.  From Mr. Lew, the stutter.  When an interviewee is unsettled by the answer or the question, they do tend to stutter.  It may not mean they doubt what they’re saying.  But it doesn’t imply a strong reply.  And the culture tends to equate stuttering with lying.  Remember “Stutter” from the R&B singer, Joe?  Coincidentally, in the song, the girlfriend stutters even though it was her twin having the affair.

Stuttering is not necessarily a sign of lack of confidence either. Stuttering is sometimes popularly seen as a symptom of anxiety, but there is actually no direct correlation in that direction (though the inverse can be true, as social anxiety may actually develop in individuals as a result of their stuttering, manifesting at its peak if one has just stuttered in a situation or manner the stutterer believes especially unfortunate; as the spike in anxiety can be near-instantaneous, often becoming apparent in mid-syllable, a casual observer will tend to mistake the effect for the cause).

And Mr. Lew, maybe Russia isn’t bothered by US and European sanctions much because they are grabbing the territories and treasuries of former neighbors as a way to offset those sanctions.  But, as Kai likes to say, … I digress.

Bottom line: Just because someone stutters in an interview or a conversation doesn’t necessarily mean they are hiding something.

Good job staying on Mr. Lew for some good answers, Mr. Ryssdal.

Written by Interviewer

April 26, 2014 at 08:50

“Foreign” Policy

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This has nothing to do with interviews.  I’ll always try to make that disclamer in advance of a general rant.

The announcement this morning about North Korea’s successful test of a high yield, small sized nuclear weapon sent the diplomatic community worldwide into a tizzy.  It was “shocking” and a “violation” of warnings against pursuit of a weapons program by the international community.  “The Game is Changed” as one commenter said on one of the morning talk shows.


In 2005, when Barack Obama was making his debut as guest speaker at the Democratic National Convention, North Korea had just made it’s first test of a nuclear device.  It was what was called at the time “a fizzle.”  Tom Clancy fans know that means it was a bomb that didn’t blow up the way it was supposed to.

Pundits and strategic analysts at the time ridiculed the North Koreans, saying their program was “decades” away from anything of consequence.  Yet, the world was still reverberating from the news that a Pakistani engineer had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, and North Korea on how to build and deliver better bombs.  He was made a hero at home despite howls from the West to try and punish him for providing material support to terrorist regimes.

Then, there were all of those test launches by the North Koreans.  Their announcement of their development of a long range ballistic missile that might reach California.  Their test firing of a missile over Japan.  And a second nuclear test.

And now, a successful test.  Suddenly, it’s a crisis only seven years after the first warning, and only 19 years after President Clinton tried to veer the North Koreans away from heavy water to light water reactors and their much earlier thrust toward the bomb.   Suddenly, the North Koreans have the clout they have as relentlessly pursued as have the Iranians and the Pakistanis before them.  These regimes believe that only when they have the potential to deliver nuclear bombs do they get the respect they say they deserve and our foreign policy proves them right.  Yet, in the course leading up to their development, our government, for some reason, seemed powerless to stop them.

I understand the whole “sovereignty of nations” thing.  For us in the West, it’s an extension of the supremacy of the individual as is described in our Constitution.  It’s what the charter of the United Nations is based on … if sovereign nations can run roughshod over other sovereign nations, regardless of whether they’re international pariahs, then no nation is safe and by extension, at least here in the US, no individual is safe either.  The whole “internal affairs” argument countries use to keep other countries out of their murderous affairs breaks down if a higher moral imperative starts getting thrown around since, you never know when somebody might use the same arguement against your government.  The refusal of the United States to be a participant in the International Criminal Court and thus, subject to the valuation of governments it may consider less legitimate is an excellent example of that concern.

But now the most unstable regime on Earth is starting to look like the savviest – the jester with a gun.  The government that was berated and held at arms length as too smelly to be admitted to the table of “civilized” countries now has a working nuclear weapons program.  As the West hand ranged, lost inside of its own sturm and drang, the North Koreans puttered along like the little reactor that could.  And unless the Chinese, who by the way, don’t necessarily like the equivalent of a crazy person sleeping in their basement; unless they use whatever clout they have to tamp down North Korea’s lust for power and respect, they’ll be just as nervous and miserable as the rest of us.

Why no Stuxnet for Pyongyang?  Didn’t they have centrifuges too?  I mean, for them to get this far (further than the Iranians, apparently), didn’t they need have to have had a bunch of them spinning for years already?  But not a peep in the media.  Why not?

Foreign policy.  It certainly is.

Written by Interviewer

February 12, 2013 at 23:50