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Throwing Softballs: Interviews With Politicians Sacrifice Scrutiny For Access

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In political journalism, the only currency is access. Fail to obtain access, and you will lose all the big "gets" to your competitors. And to obtain access, media superstars must demonstrate their willingness to swallow hard and get to licking some boot. And what ends up happening is that every competing point of view becomes one most "interesting" addition to the debate, even when the only thing that's objectively interesting about some contentions is that they are wrong or insane.

Over at Gawker, Ravi Somaiya has some superb Real Talk on the matter:

Put simply: almost without exception, American political interviewers fawn and simper over their subjects, refuse to ask a question more than once and never call bullshit on blatant bullshit. If anchors, interviewers and White House correspondents did their job -- to hold elected officials accountable, by their lapels if necessary -- politicians of all stripes could not get away with distorting and outright lying, as they do now.

Rove-ian veneers would simply be scraped away by the eight words 'that is not true, please answer my question'. Repeated enough on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC they'd mean no birthers. No myths about healthcare or rumors of death panels. No paranoid lies about creeping socialism. No George W. Bush. No Sarah Palin.

Somaiya's piece is great: read the whole thing. The only correction I'd offer is that there is one question political interlocutors will reliably ask more than once: "Are you running for president? Are you running for president? Are you running for president?" Beyond that, though, you get the low performance of soft questioning.

Compare and contrast what you know of political interviewing with this clip Somaiya provides, of the BBC's Jeremy Paxman interviewing Michael Howard:

That's the sort of interrogative pressure you rarely see on cable news. In fact, on those rare occasions when you see it on our own news programs, you sort of have to ask yourself -- are the stakes particularly high?

I remember being pretty impressed with Chris Matthews that time he took apart the argument of right-wing radio host Kevin James on "Hardball" back in May of 2008, but time and distance and hundreds of iterations of the show later, I've actually developed a dim view of this exchange. Because, so what? There's no access at risk. There's nothing at risk! I think you'll find Chris Matthews is much more accommodating to the people he wants to have back on his show. I think you'll find that everyone is more accommodating.

RELATED:
Fawning Political Interviews Have Ruined American Politics [Gawker]

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