Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Dave Miller

Goddamn, Goddamn, Goddamn

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goddamn

Three goddamns.

That’s how many were in an interview between OPB’s “Think Outloud” host Dave Miller and “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert in their rebroadcasted interview today from September 2015.  Although not one of George Carlin’s original “Seven Dirty Words”, the trifecta reminded me of a 2009 interview NPR’s Madeline Brand had with Jeremy Renner, who had starred in “The Hurt Locker”.  Words were bleeped but his use of “goddamn” wasn’t, which prompted a listener to ask the NPR Ombudsman why not?

The Ombudsman replied that “using god damn it” is not legally profane, according to the FCC.  The phrase is not, in legal parlance, “actionable”.  The federal agency defines three standards for language; obscene, profane and indecent:

1. Obscene content does not have protection by the First Amendment.  For content to be ruled obscene, it must meet a three-pronged test established by the Supreme Court: It must appeal to an average person’s prurient interest; depict or describe sexual conduct in a “patently offensive” way; and, taken as a whole, lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

2. Indecent content portrays sexual or excretory organs or activities in a way that does not meet the three-prong test for obscenity.

3. Profane content includes “grossly offensive” language that is considered a public nuisance.

However, a training pamphlet from KBOO Community Radio in Portland, Oregon, identifies words and contexts that apparently are to be avoided just in case an official decided to interpret the law a little more broadly.  These include not playing certain songs or repeating certain song titles, sexual jokes or innuendo, creative editing of profane or indecent words or fleeting references, such as “Oh Shit!”

KBOO giving the realm of questionable language such a wide berth might have something to do with the fact that the station was fined $7000 in 2001 for violating community standards on its “Soundbox” program.  The station had broadcast a poem by performer Sarah Jones that included lyrics the FCC considered indecent.

From the FCC lawsuit:
Radio Station:  KBOO-FM, Portland, Oregon
Date/Time Broadcast:   October 20, 1999, on the “Soundbox,” between 7:00  and 9:00 p.m.
Material Broadcast:  “Your Revolution”

(Various female voices)

Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
The real revolution ain’t about bootie size
The Versaces you buys
Or the Lexus you drives
And though we’ve lost Biggie Smalls
Maybe your notorious revolution
Will never allow you to lace no lyrical douche in my bush
Your revolution will not be you killing me softly with fujees
Your revolution ain’t gonna knock me up without no ring
And  produce little future M.C.’s
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not find me in the back seat of a jeep
With L.L. hard as hell, you know
Doing it and doing and doing it well, you know
Doing it and doing it and doing it well
Your revolution will not be you smacking it up, flipping it or rubbing it down
Nor will it take you downtown, or humping around
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
Your revolution will not have me singing
Ain’t no nigger like the one I got
Your revolution will not be you sending me for no drip drip V.D. shot
Your revolution will not involve me or feeling your nature rise
Or having you fantasize
Because that revolution will not happen between these thighs
No no not between these thighs
Uh-uh
My Jamaican brother
Your revolution will not make you feel bombastic, and really fantastic
And have you groping in the dark for that rubber wrapped in plastic
Uh-uh
You will not be touching your lips to my triple dip of
French vanilla, butter pecan, chocolate deluxe
Or having Akinyele’s dream, um hum
A six foot blow job machine, um hum
You wanna subjugate your Queen, uh-huh
Think I’m gonna put it in my mouth just because you
Made a few bucks,
Please brother please
Your revolution will not be me tossing my weave
And making me believe I’m some caviar eating ghetto
Mafia clown
Or me giving up my behind
Just so I can get signed
And maybe have somebody else write my rhymes
I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
You know I’m Sarah Jones
Not Foxy Brown
Your revolution makes me wonder
Where could we go
If we could drop the empty pursuit of props and the ego
We’d revolt back to our roots
Use a little common sense on a quest to make love
De la soul, no pretense, but
Your revolution will not be you flexing your little sex and status
To express what you feel
Your revolution will not happen between these thighs
Will not happen between these thighs
Will not be you shaking
And me, [sigh] faking between these thighs
Because the real revolution
That’s right, I said the real revolution
You know, I’m talking about the revolution
When it comes,
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
It’s gonna be real
When it finally comes
It’s gonna be real

In 2003, a more forgiving FCC, after hearing from Jones herself and the station, chose to rescind the fine.   Fortunately for KBOO, both the fine and the rescision were before the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl.  The public outrage which followed caused the FCC to jack up fines per violation from $32,000 to $350,000.  Such a fine would’ve been like a planet killing asteroid smashing through KBOO’s tiny 8th Avenue studio.

The FCC determined that community standards were not violated.  It is an example of how the law regarding obscenity, indecency and profanity, whether gratuitous or not, is and isn’t written in stone.  There may be several standards at work when stations chose to allow or restrict language that may or may not cost them big bucks, public support or both.

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Hitting the &$%@#* Button!

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Red Button

Today, while listening to Oregon Public Broadcasting’s midday news magazine/talk show, “Think Outloud”, I heard something that I don’t often hear.  As Mark Zusman, publisher of Portland’s “Willamette Week” newspaper, praised the work of the late Oregon writer, Catherine Dunn, he recounted a story of a lapel button she frequently wore as she wrote for the paper.  Mr. Zusman presaged the comment by saying, “I don’t know if I can say this”, and Think Outloud host Dave Miller recommended he edit his memory for a radio-friendly audience.

Apparently, Mr. Zusman chose not to do that because the next thing I heard was Mr. Miller translating the button into, “The Meek shall Inherit Bupkis”.  Bupkis, for those who don’t know, is Yiddish and means, “nothing”.  So, with Ms. Dunn’s flair for the English language, it’s safe to assume the button said something like, “The Meek Shall Inherit Not Shit”.  And I know I didn’t hear Mr. Zussman say it because after the translation, Mr. Miller said he thought he saw his producer “Hit the Button”.

“The Button” is slang for the more technical term, “Broadcast Delay”.  Whenever something is said that could possibly offend either community standards or the FCC, stations and hosts have the responsibility to use technology that makes certain the offending word never makes to the public airwaves.  To a listener, it might sound like a bad audio edit; one second, the person talking is about to say whatever they’re going to say and the next second, they are saying something completely different.  This happens because all radio broadcasts operate on a delay of between seven and 30 seconds.  That means what you, the listener is hearing, is actually seven to 30 seconds after when it was actually said.  If there is something stations have to cut, they trigger a circut that removes the offending audio in real time at the station but what you hear is the edit.

Why some guests speak the profanity anyway is partly the fault of the stations  themselves.  The “beep”, or the sound that many producers have used for years to indicate the place where the profanity was, has itself become iconic.  To be “beeped out” is kinda cool, like it gives you radio street cred.  Guests know cursing on the radio is frowned upon, so that might be another reason – they get to be a little “bad”.  They don’t always realize this doesn’t work as well for a live rather than a pre-produced program.  Or, maybe guests figure they have the literary license to speak truthfully about whatever it is and leave it to the stations to sort it out.

This technology varies depending on what stations can afford.  Because it is expensive, some systems have a limited capacity to do this, meaning, if there are more than, say, three such oopsies in one conversation, the system might stop working and then the station is in danger of a fine.  And after the 2004 Super Bowl “Wardrobe Malfunction” incident involving Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake, that fine went from about $35,000 per violation to about $350,000.  So stations are really, really paranoid about profanity.

However, I have noticed some very interesting exceptions to that rule.  I’ll be talking about those in a later post.

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.

Remarkable?

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Halo

Listening to a promo for an interview between Dave Miller on OPB’s “Think OutLoud” and incoming and outgoing Portland police chiefs, I was struck by something outgoing Chief Mike Reese said.  Mr. Miller asked him if he has seen a change in the use of force by Portland police during his more than four year tenure.  Paraphrasing Mr. Reese, he said he has seen a remarkable drop in force related incidents by the police against Portland’s citizens.

His use of the word, “remarkable” was what got my attention.  The definition of remarkable is “worthy of being or likely to be noticed, especially as being uncommon  or extraordinary”.  I think the first part of the definition applies.  The drop in the use of force by Portland police, if it has in fact occurred, is certainly worth noticing.  But the second part of the definition was bothersome.

“Uncommon” means “not ordinarily encountered” with a second definition being “remarkable and exceptional”.  Meanwhile “extraordinary” means “going beyond what is usual, regular or customary”.  Its second definition uses “remarkable” as a synonym.

I think you can see the problem here.

If Portland’s outgoing police chief considers “remarkable” the drop in the use of force by the Portland police, it makes me wonder what he and the Portland police consider “routine” treatment of those same citizens.  In other words, how rare should this be?  I mean, shouldn’t it be “remarkable” when an incident occurs rather than when one doesn’t occur?  To call a drop in the occurrence of something toxic “remarkable” implies that the drop was never expected and is, in fact, surprising.  And that speaks volumes to the problems currently orbiting police culture across the country.  This is one of those situations where I would’ve liked to see the interviewer ask what “remarkable” meant in that context.

And to that sentiment, I want to use an antonym.

Pitiful.

Biting the Hand that Sort of Feeds You

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Biting the Hand

Kudos to Dave Miller, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Outloud” for the voicing fears and suspicions of KOPB staff. Mr. Miller was interviewing the new NPR President, Jarl Mohn.  Mr. Mohn had spent much of the conversation talking about the importance of fundraising for the future of NPR, mentioning that the mammoth Ray Kroc (founder of McDonalds) endowment to NPR of a quarter billion dollars in the early 2000s may necessarily be considered “small” in the face of NPR’s future financial needs and fundraising asks.

At one point, Mr. Mohn said he looks forward to “helping” NPR affiliates with their fundraising, to which Mr. Miller, God Bless Him, said that he knows a lot of dedicated people doing fundraising at public radio stations around the country who are already working hard to fundraise, and how do they know that Mr. Mohn’s offer to “help” isn’t just an excuse for NPR HQ to skim more money off the operating budgets of already struggling stations?

Ka-POW!

NPR programs are not cheap. Consider what it costs for a local affiliate just to meet overhead; that’s lights, taxes, licenses, fees. Then, salaries and benefit packages, capital expenditures, lawyers. Then marketing and advertising, maintenance, insurance. And none of that includes the cost of the programs.  I’ve heard pitchers on OPB say that flagship offerings like Morning Edition and All Things Considered can cost a million dollars or more each year.  Then, there’s very popular programs like Science Friday, Here and Now and the relatively new TED Radio Hour.   All of that has to be covered by whatever grants and endowments a station can scrounge. But the center tent pole for any station is fundraising. As a former federal employee, I’m well familiar with the phrase “Hi, I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”. Consider this piece from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2010 that looks how how much it costs to run NPR.  It makes sense that affiliates who’ve got their own thing going don’t necessarily want HQ’s nose under their own tent flap.

And it also doesn’t help that NPR has cycled through five presidents since 1994.  No doubt, local folks look at the turmoil at a place that is supposed to be rock solid and wonder if their own management is a little more stable and locally focused.

Mr. Mohn’s charm offensive had the overtones of a PR campaign. And although he said that if stations didn’t want the help, they didn’t have to take it, you could tell by the occasional edge in his voice that he had heard those concerns before. And now, good journalism or not, KOPB in general and Dave Miller in particular have Mr. Mohn’s attention, if for no other reason, because the station dared to give voice to the question that so many dedicated staffs around the country mutter to each other in hallways and breakrooms.  And for folks who think HQs don’t ever seek recriminations against affiliates for personal slights, a review of Pacifica turmoil might give them more to consider.

George Orwell said journalism is telling something somebody doesn’t want you to tell and everything else is public relations.

OPB – Journalism Done Here.  Good job … and buckle up.

Crickets

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Crickets

This is a quickie.

Sometimes, an interviewer will introduce a guest or a number of guests with the expectation that after he finishes the introduction, the guests will acknowledge the introduction by saying something like how glad they are to be there or how grateful they are to have to opportunity to talk.  It’s the official go ahead to the host that the interview can commence.

But sometimes that doesn’t happen.  Sometimes there is dead silence from everybody.  Then, the host is stuck in that wierd little moment between waiting for the guest(s) to acknowledge the introduction and deciding to plow forward without it.

That happened today with Dave Miller, the host of the Oregon Public Broadcasting noontime radio news program “Think Outloud”.  Following a long and flowing introduction of three people who were on the program to speak of their history with former Oregon Republican Governor Vic Atiyeh who had just been honored in a memorial service, none of them said anything.  After a couple seconds, he moved on but you could tell he was caught a little off guard.  After all, you might expect one person out of three to not say anything.  But three out of three?

As an interviewer, you always wonder when that happens why that happens.  It’s sort of a social convention – equivalent to saying thank you when someone holds open a door.  When the convention gets broken, it can be a surprise.  And the dynamics can be a little hard to understand.  Maybe the longer any guest doesn’t hear any other guest speak first, the longer none of them choose to speak first.  Maybe they consider the nicety superflurous and so they don’t participate in it.  Maybe they didn’t hear the introduction or weren’t paying attention to it.  Or maybe they just want to punk the host.  All have happened to me.  Who knows?

But interviewers, journalist, reporters; anyone who publicly  engages the public knows that expecting people to behave a certain way is risky.  You want to give them their respect and make room for cordiality.  When it doesn’t come though, you can’t blink.  You just think to yourself, “Well, it is what it is” and just keep going.

Written by Interviewer

September 4, 2014 at 02:33