Sunday, November 28, 2004

Interview Ironies

Sometimes life seems to throw irony at you, just to see how you'll react.

Just a couple of days ago, I pulled a comment from the Elder at Fraters Libertas regarding NPR's Terry Gross to rip on her as an overrated interviewer. I also lauded CSPAN's Brian Lamb as one of the two best interviewers today. (The relevant stuff is in here, but you have to scroll down a bit.)

Tonight, flipping around channels, I found myself watching bits and pieces of Brian Lamb on CSPAN's Booknotes interviewing the author of a new biography of President Franklin Pierce. Interesting stuff.

But then came life's little shot across my bow. After the show came an announcement that CSPAN 2 was about to show an interview with NPR's Terry Gross, regarding her own new book. Of course I flipped over to watch.

The interview was conducted on a big stage in front of an audience, and hosted by Barnes and Noble. If I ever get around to publishing a book and wind up getting interviewed in a Denny's somewhere I'll keep all of those details in mind to keep me humble.

Frank Rich, left-leaning cultural critic and occasional political moonbat at the New York Times, conducted the interview. On a snarky note, never having seen him before I was surprised. I had never pictured him as possessing such a balding, corpulent, and terribly dull physical appearence. I had always pictured Rich as more of a dandy - like Tony Randall perhaps, only more scowling and less likable. The real Frank Rich could easily blend into the background in any insurance underwriting office in the country.

The interview itself was not bad. After a babbly starting note, Rich kept himself out of it and focused the attention on his subject. And the subject, Terry Gross, is not boring. She's not terribly important in my opinion, nor terribly good at the craft she's lauded for, But she didn't make for a dull interview.

I did bail out halfway through, but that was more due to the clock and the fact that I work in the morning than the interview itself.

One thing that did come across is that my dislike of Gross's interviewing style is no accident. She thinks her quirky questions coming out of (and generally leading) nowhere in particular make a great interview. I think they make for great NPR style points and a lousy interview. History, rather than the current leftist intellectual clique dominating NPR and the NYT will prove the ultimate judge.

She does think her role is to find the "story behind the man." I agree with that. I just think her technique isn't good at doing it. It produces anecdotes in skewed context which often as not provide an inaccurate picture of the subject.

This also served to remind me that I've been negligent in going after my own next interview (and incidentally, no. I don't think I'm personally a world-class interviewer. I'm a hobbyist and an amateur who just likes the stuff). I have the subject - another one of the NARN guys - already staked out in my mind. The real trick is getting him to actually agree. Certain other NARN guys are painfully shy about having their words recorded by the crack Bogus Gold investigative team. Mitch was certainly accomodating though. Perhaps I need to make it more clear that drinks are on me for the course of the interview. That may not be as persuasive for the next subject I have in mind. We'll see.

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