When Good Interviews Go Bad
Whether you think Edward Snowden is a hero or traitor, you're likely to be amused by this interview. It came on Headline News Network when host Yasmin Vossoughian has guest Jon Hendren on to discuss whether Mr. Snowden should be allowed on Twitter or blocked.
This is a lesson in remembering to pay attention to what your guest is saying, since in today's parlance, Ms. Vossoughian gets trolled. Big time.
Now, it's possible that she's just so taken aback by him seemingly going off the rails that she made the snap decision to play it cool and let things pass. It's possible, too, that she understood that he's speaking metaphorically, in his description of Edward Snowden's plight compared to a fictional movie character, also named "Edward S." Maybe, too, she simply zoned out hearing another "Edward S." name, though Jon Hendren only references that once. The rest of the time he's just being...er, "descriptive." More likely though, since there's absolutely nothing in her reaction -- not a body twitch or head shake or blink, let alone convulsion -- to show that she grasps that anything abnormal is being said that she's listening to someone in the control booth in her earpiece, or is just totally focused looking for her next question and not remotely listening. That's because, as metaphoric as Mr. Hendren may be, it's pretty clear that he knows he's intentionally going off into the ozone with his references and pushing the concept of metaphors into another level of the ether.
I have a certain sympathy for an interviewer trying to listen to a voice in her earpiece (if that's what happened) or trying to focus on the next question, having once been a similar situation. But only a "certain" sympathy, since listening to both the control booth and guest is part of the job. And having your questions prepared ahead of time is basic Journalism 101. (In my situation, I had prepared questions and asked them all, at which point I opened the floor to the audience of reporters and expected them to ask some follow-ups...but not one person did. So, I was stuck with keeping the interview going and nothing left to ask, struggling to pay attention to the guest, while all the while trying desperately to think of a next question.)
What I have less sympathy for is when a purported journalist repeatedly keeps asking supposedly probing questions based on what "some people say." That's okay in a very limited scope, but for the most part -- especially when you keep doing it -- you should reference who at least some of those "some people" are. After all, "some people say" we should wear aluminum foil hats to protect us from Martian rays attacking us. Who the "some people" are is important. "Some people" by itself, over and over, isn't. And when done enough, it sort of suggests you haven't done your homework and don't have a very big clue what you're talking about. Which, alas, sort of comes clear as this interview progresses.
Of course, a larger question is why Jon Hendren is on HNN to discuss Edward Snowden in the first place is anybody's guest. He's a known figure on "Weird Twitter" and has also been described as a "Twitter comedian," which is hardly a small subset of the public, nor one generally considered to be a qualification for government policy expertise. Then again, given that Jon Hendren's Twitter name is "@fart," I'd think that should raise red flags from the moment you contacted him to appear, even ignoring his status on "Weird Twitter." What could possibly go wrong with that?
Well, here's what could --
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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