Posted by: ritagone | August 8, 2012

The World’s Worst Interviewers



No wonder Edward R. Murrow is considered the best interviewer who ever lived.  No one has surpassed his consummate skill or his ability to sit in a chair, cigarette in hand, and gather information from an interviewee in an intelligent and articulate manner.

Unlike the current slew of interviewers on TV today, who by contrast make Murrow look like even more of a genius.

Take the recent interviews after various sporting events during the Olympic games.  Now, consider this: you’re holding a microphone up to the face of someone who just lost a chance at a gold medal in, let’s say, gymnastics.  Lucky you!  You got to them lickety-split, and now the entire world via global television is waiting to hear the pertinent questions you’re going to ask, questions that will get to the heart of how they’re feeling so that we the viewers can identify with the heartbreak of their loss and emotional state.

“Tell me, Sally,” you ask, eagerly waving the microphone toward Sally’s despondent face, “you just lost a chance at the gold medal.  How do you feel?”

Now, if ever there was a stupid question, this is it!  How do you think Sally feels?  Wonderful, elated, thrilled?  Sure!  What’s she going to say?  How in the world do you answer a question like that?  It’s almost impossible to give a coherent, sensible response.

“Sally, what would you do differently if you could play your match all over again?”  Stupid question #2.

“Well,” responds Sally, if she were honest, “I’d win.”

And on and on it goes, painfully torturing Sally until she can escape to the locker room or wherever it is that defeated athletes go to get away from the worst interviewers in the world.

Surely it can’t be all that difficult to put together some questions at these highlighted moments that are thought-provoking and intelligent for both the audience and the athletes.  “Sally, how do you put this loss into perspective?”  “Sally, what’s next?  Where do you go from here?  How do you regroup mentally and emotionally and physically?”  “Sally, what’s on your agenda for this evening?  How do you spend the rest of the day and night after what went on here?”  Any of these questions, I would think (of course I would think they are good, because I created them), represent some opportunity to probe the athlete’s mental state, to get behind what it feels like to lose…or to win.  Aren’t we just as concerned with both?  And don’t we want to know what happens next, beyond the wins and the losses, because ultimately there’s a character involved, a soul, and a life?

I’m old enough to remember Edward R. Murrow, the legend, and some of his famous interviews.  Why in fact was he legendary?  Because he could ask a probing question, not an inane, stupid one, but something that caused his interviewee to have to think, to hesitate for a few seconds because he or she had to ponder an intelligent answer.  And, more than that, he could instantly put people at ease, sitting there with that constant cigarette in his hand, his legs crossed, it was as if he was sitting in your living room across from you, asking you questions simply because he wanted to know you better.  Barbara Walters had – in her heyday as an interviewer – a bit of the Murrow technique of putting people at their ease while interviewing them with a laugh, a smile, a focus of her eyes upon you that eliminated everything else in the world, including the cameras and the lights.  She could convince you that the person she was talking to was someone she would love to talk to for hours on end, a skill that has gotten her into some of the most famous places and in front of the most notorious faces around the world.

But stick a microphone into the hands of some of those whose job description today is “interviewer,” and you will be sorely disappointed.  It is almost a lost art.  Most people who work in this arena today are probably so concerned with their own image and career path that they don’t have enough room in their worldview to encompass what’s going on in the head of anyone else.  Is there anyone else on their planet?  No.  That’s why they are inept at coming up with and executing good questions: because, deep down, they really don’t care what Sally or Freddy is feeling or has to say.  What they really care about is: how am I looking as I conduct this interview?  Is my hair in place?  Am I smiling when the camera is on me?  Will this interview show me off so that I can step to the next level in my career ladder?

It’s a little microcosm of life, in a way:  you have to forget about your own life and immerse yourself in someone else’s to be able to extricate from that person a story — or an interview —  that is worth telling.

How are you doing in terms of “interviewing” people around you?  Are you really paying attention to them or are you coasting through the day asking pointless or inane questions because you’re so focused on your own stuff?

It’s worth thinking about.


  1. Rita ~
    I agree. It’s getting increasingly annoying to listen to these interviewers grill the public about any loss: a race, a missing child, a housefire or an earthquake. Unfortunately, the public’s craving for REALITY TV shows only fuels the reporters frenzy for melodrama which feeds the “beast” and boosts the network ratings. It’s all rather demoralizing , base and plain CHEEZY!

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