Sunday, August 24, 2008

Getting the most out of an interview subject

I bumped into some angry blog posts about an Olympics interview conducted by Chris Collinsworth of NBC with Kobe Bryant of the American basketball team.

Bryant was telling Collinsworth about what he did when he first received his Olympics jacket. He said he laid it on his bed and just sat there looking at it for a long time.

Collinsworth asked, "Where does the patriotism come from inside of you? Historically, what is it?"

And Bryant answered, "Well, you know, it's just . . . Our country is . . . We believe it's the greatest country in the world. It has given us so many great opportunities, and it's just a sense of pride that you have: that you say, 'You know what? Our country is the best!'"

Collinsworth followed up, "Is that a 'cool' thing to say, in this day and age--that you love your country, and that you’re fighting for the red, white and blue? It seems sort of like a day gone by."

Bryant came back, "No. It's a cool thing for me to say. I feel great about it, and I'm not ashamed to say it. I mean, this is a tremendous honor."

Warner Todd Huston of Stop the ACLU wrote in NBC Questions Kobe Bryant’s Pride of Being on Team USA,
Kobe began to say how thrilled he was to get his Team USA uniform and that he “just stared at it” for a while in awe. Collinsworth followed that heartwarming display of patriotism with a jaw dropping series of questions. Worse, he asked these questions with an absurd smirk stealing across his face, seeming to think that he was about to join Kobe in cynicism over the evil America with his doubting Thomas questions. . . .

Apparently Collinsworth was shocked that a black man could be at all patriotic and proud of being a representative of his country. But the real question here isn’t if Kobe is proud to wear the Team USA uniform, but why Chris Collinsowrth so automatically thought it wasn’t “cool” to be proud of being an American “in this day and age”?

I mean, what the heck was this “historically, what is it” question? Is Collinsworth saying that it is impossible for a black man to be patriotic? Apparently so.

I replied:
Let me note that I don't watch TV. I have never seen Mr. Collinsworth before. I know nothing about him or about his political or cultural views. . . .

I would like to think that Collinsworth was asking in a friendly way what, sadly, too many left-leaning Americans would ask of any patriotic American if given the opportunity (but which they would ask with far less finesse and far greater vehemence).

I, personally, am not a member of the professional press corp. HOWEVER, I am often called upon to get people’s direct and real opinions on different subjects. And I have found one of the best techniques to elicit passionate and heartfelt comments is to ask questions in a somewhat adversarial tone--even if and as I may fully agree with [what I expect] the speaker [to say].

If I merely nod my head and agree, I get no passionate statement from my interviewee. If, however, I "come at them" a bit and feign some form of mild astonishment or shock at what they say, I elicit a much more robust and passionate statement-–exactly what Mr. Collinsworth elicited from Mr. Bryant.

Imagine what the world would be like if reporters were only permitted to ask softball questions that never force an interviewee to "dig down deep" and come up with a passionate reply. How uneducational. How boring!
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