When in­ter­views stop short of an­swers

In­ter­rupted in­ter­views sti­fle di­a­logue and short­change crises that de­serve at­ten­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Dana Rohrabacher Dana Rohrabacher, a Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­can, chairs the House For­eign Af­fairs Sub­com­mit­tee on Europe, Eura­sia, and Emerg­ing Threats.

Back in the Seven­ties, long be­fore I en­tered Con­gress and well be­fore I worked as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to Pres­i­dent Reagan, I in­ter­viewed hun­dreds of peo­ple on the air and in print dur­ing a stint as a jour­nal­ist in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Those were happy days, and in that line of work I felt obliged to al­low my sub­jects to com­plete their sen­tences and to fin­ish their thoughts. I was known for get­ting to the heart of the mat­ter and ask­ing the tough­est ques­tions, but al­ways tried to be cour­te­ous. But that was an­other day.

In two re­cent me­dia en­coun­ters it be­came clear to me how much times have changed.

I re­al­ize my po­si­tion on co­op­er­a­tion with Rus­sia to de­feat rad­i­cal Is­lam is con­tro­ver­sial, but does that jus­tify at­tack-dog jour­nal­ism? In a live-stream in­ter­view I was knocked off bal­ance when in­ter­rupted be­fore I could fin­ish what I was say­ing,

An in­ter­vie­wee be­ing cut off ac­tu­ally un­der­mines the pass­ing on of use­ful in­for­ma­tion, as it did when I was cut off by Ya­hoo News’ Bianna Golodryga, who came here as a refugee from Soviet-oc­cu­pied Moldova.

Dur­ing the in­ter­view, she as­sumed I was dis­miss­ing, with the word “Baloney,” the fact that there are hu­man rights abuses in to­day’s Rus­sia. In fact, I was say­ing it was baloney to speak of to­day’s Rus­sia and Com­mu­nist China as the same in the way the two regimes treat their cit­i­zens.

That’s when her in­ter­rup­tions be­gan.

She con­cluded, un­for­tu­nately, that my in­quiry as to where she came from was to dis­miss her views rather than to un­der­stand her per­spec­tive as I think one’s ex­pe­ri­ences and fam­ily re­mem­brances can dra­mat­i­cally im­pact the views of any­one, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists.

The same thing hap­pened again a few days later dur­ing an ap­pear­ance on MSNBC’s “Morn­ing Joe.” Joe Scar­bor­ough who knows me as we served to­gether in Con­gress be­fore he mor­phed into a tele­vi­sion pun­dit ex­pert on nearly ev­ery­thing be­gan by an­nounc­ing prior to our in­ter­view that I had pre­vi­ously de­nied any hu­man rights abuse in Rus­sia, wel­comed me to the show with an unan­swer­able ques­tion, ask­ing es­sen­tially: Why did the United States do noth­ing to stop the slaugh­ter in Aleppo?

When I sug­gested that the ques­tion was based on a false premise, Joe ex­ploded and in­ter­rupted be­fore I could fin­ish what I was try­ing to say. He be­gan lit­er­ally scream­ing that I was deny­ing the slaugh­ter of peo­ple in Aleppo which was hardly the case.

Had he not cut me off, the false premise I wanted to ex­plain was his as­ser­tion that we as a na­tion had done “noth­ing” in the face of this slaugh­ter.

The United States has in fact tried al­beit with­out much suc­cess to put a halt to the vi­o­lence in Syria as out­lined by his other guests once Joe ended his di­a­tribe and set­tled down to per­mit some­thing ap­proach­ing an ac­tual con­ver­sa­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, Joe was so out­raged over my be­lief in co­op­er­a­tion rather than con­fronta­tion with Rus­sia that it pre­vented a more pro­duc­tive ex­change of ideas.

When I found my­self in his po­si­tion many years ago, I of­ten in­ter­viewed guests with whom I dis­agreed, but didn’t be­lieve I had the right to cut them off in mid­sen­tence. Per­haps it was naive.’ but in those days most jour­nal­ists ac­tu­ally tried to find out what their sub­jects be­lieved.

We are all hor­ri­fied by the events in Syria. But an hon­est dis­cus­sion of what might be done to stop the blood­shed and suf­fer­ing is what’s needed, not tem­per tantrums.

Is­sues like this are com­pli­cated and do not lend them­selves to sim­plis­tic head­lines, slo­ga­neer­ing, and rude cable in­ter­views. Vari­a­tions of the views for which I was at­tacked are shared by se­ri­ous thinkers from Henry Kissinger to Reagan’s am­bas­sador to Moscow, Jack Mat­lock. They de­serve a real hear­ing.

We need to talk se­ri­ously about the ad­van­tages and dan­gers in­her­ent in pro­pos­als like “no-fly zones” and “safe zones,” which could lead to our shoot­ing down Rus­sian planes and a vi­o­lent and es­ca­lat­ing con­fronta­tion with Moscow. Such a con­fronta­tion, would in the opin­ion of many of us, do lit­tle to fur­ther the cause of peace or even end the con­flict in Syria.

Later, one of Joe’s pan­elists won­dered if by sug­gest­ing co­op­er­a­tion rather than con­fronta­tion I fa­vored mak­ing us an “ac­com­plice to evil.” That ques­tion must have been asked and an­swered in an ear­lier era when FDR, Tru­man and Churchill de­cided they would rather work with Stalin’s Com­mu­nist Soviet Union than risk de­feat by Hitler. They knew Stalin for what he was, but knew too that they had to de­feat the Nazis and Ja­panese mil­i­tarists, who were the world’s pri­mary en­e­mies at that time.

My old friend Joe con­cluded by lament­ing that I was not the Dana he once knew. Sadly, Joe’s uned­i­fy­ing ta­ble talk was not the in­ter­view in pur­suit of an­swers I once prac­ticed.


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