The Art of Elite Jour­nal­ist’s In­ter­view­ing

Special Focus - - CULTURE - By Mike Wal­lace and Beth Kno­bel [USA]

Good jour­nal­ists are ca­pa­ble of ask­ing sim­ple ques­tions which can re­sult in long an­swers. Scott Pel­ley, a jour­nal­ist for the CBS News Mag­a­zine “60 Min­utes” holds that a good ques­tion should not be more than six words. “Other­wise when you talked for thirty sec­onds, your in­ter­vie­wee would fol­low your step,” he added, “which is a com­mon mis­take.”

An­other tech­nique used of­ten in in­ter­view­ing is “What do you think of…?” It works for Mike Wal­lace every time, in­clud­ing the in­ter­view with Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher.

Is­rael in­vaded Le­banon in 1982, which vexed Bri­tish and Amer­i­cans. It was dif­fi­cult to in­ter­view Thatcher who had been well pol­ished in all kinds of do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal de­bates. There­fore, Mike thought about how to break her de­fense and re­veal her true thoughts about Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter.

“I asked her, ‘What do you think of Me­nachem Be­gin?’ At the first sec­ond, she said some­thing like, ‘Whoa, what should I say?’ It’s ob­vi­ous that Me­nachem Be­gin was a nerve-rack­ing trou­ble for her.” Mike said, “Then I let her pause. I was very sat­is­fied even though there was only one sec­ond.”

“If you are a good jour­nal­ist, you know how to make your in­ter­vie­wee less de­fen­sive, be­cause you know so much about him and the cour­tesy is less de­sir­able here.” Mike ex­plained.

In an in­ter­view with Lu­ciano Pavarotti, the fa­mous Ital­ian opera tenor in 1993, Mike pierced Pavarotti’s pro­tec­tive ar­mor with his sharp­ness. To achieve this, Mike brought out all the crit­i­cisms against Pavarotti.

“They said his voice was be­com­ing weak. He was too fat. He was lazy. His voice was cracked and he was booed.” Mike re­called, “then I asked, ‘What are you afraid of?’ ‘Is the twi­light of your ca­reer com­ing?’ He said, ‘Of course, they are right.’ Pavarotti talked about his fear and down­ward side. Un­der Mike’s pres­sure, he sur­ren­dered and re­vealed his weak side, pro­duc­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fect.

There were also times when the in­ter­vie­wee tried to in­tim­i­date the in­ter­viewer. Mike re­mem­bered that Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad, the pres­i­dent of Iran tried to de­ter him by hold­ing off in an in­ter­view.

“We were in a suite in Tehran and waited for a long time. We got a lit­tle an­gry about be­ing left there.” Mike re­called. Mike, Robert An­der­son, the pro­ducer and the whole team waited and waited, but there was no sign that Ah­madine­jad would like to take the in­ter­view.

“We sus­pected that the whole room was wire­tapped by Tehran au­thor­ity. So I re­mem­bered that I started to talk to the chan­de­lier in­stinc­tively.” Mike con­tin­ued.

Talk­ing to the chan­de­lier is an old trick started in the cold war, which refers to talk­ing to the wall when you found you were tapped so as to com­mu­ni­cate with the lo­cal gov­ern­ment. “Our visa will ex­pire after three or four days. So we’d bet­ter or­der ticket fly­ing back to New York.” It worked. “Half an hour later, it came that he would like to ac­cept our in­ter­view.” Mike ex­plained.

(From Heat and Light, China Ren­min Univer­sity Press. Trans­la­tion: Li Li)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.