Dear Aunt Sophie,
I’m a famous television journalist, 88 years young and, I might add, proud as hell of that fact. I’m semi-retired now, so I only do the interviews I want to do. Recently I did one with a Middle-Eastern president. I thought I did a real bang-up sock-dollager of an interview. My whole family thought so, too, and all my friends, so you can understand that I was completely nonplussed when I started to hear that some people thought I’d lobbed soft balls. It’s been a long time since I’ve been criticized and I have to tell you, I don’t like it one bit.
From the way people are carrying on, you’d think I’d been had, like some inexperienced puppy. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Think about it. I’ve spent a lifetime asking hard questions and not worrying about whether my subject’s feelings were hurt. It takes a special sensibility to do that and get away with it. And courage - do you have any idea what chutzpah you need to ask penetrating questions of a Middle-Eastern president who may or may not have the bomb? You don’t want to pull your punches, but at the same time you can’t show disrespect. It’s a fine line. But walking that line has never been a problem for me. That’s why I really was the right man at the right time for this interview.
I asked him some deeply penetrating questions. He didn’t realize it, but I sandbagged him. And would you believe it - at one point he actually turned to me for advice about his appearance? He said his aides told him his jacket looked disheveled and I told him it looked fine. When I was a little boy I could never have dreamed that one day I’d be giving fashion advice to a Middle-Eastern president!
Once I’d gained his confidence and respect I asked him the Big One: Is he an anti-Semite? He insists he’s not and you know, I have to believe him. It’s Israel he’s against, not Jews. When he says he wants Israel wiped off the map he just means he wants it moved to another part of the world. From his point of view, that’s perfectly reasonable. You know how it is when you have a neighbor you can’t get along with - you hope he’ll move. Who hasn’t had that feeling at one point or another?
Another thing - he seemed genuinely concerned about the state of our country. In fact he specifically expressed his sadness that so many of our people are in jail and so many others don’t have health insurance. How many Middle-Eastern presidents would even care about conditions in the so-called Free World?
He also seemed concerned that President Bush will leave office despised instead of revered. Honestly now, does that sound like a man filled with hatred?
But maybe his essential goodness didn’t come across in the interview. If so, I failed because it’s my job to elicit the real personality of my subject. I’d hate to think I might have failed at this point in my life. Please tell me I didn’t.
Grand Old Man of TV Journalism
It’s heart-warming to hear from a journalist with the exquisite sensibility required to pose tough questions without discomfiting his subject. No one wants to see the president of a third world country with rockets treated like an ordinary American housewife ("Have you hired a lawyer, Mrs. Jones, now that your baby’s dismembered body has been discovered behind your clothes dryer?"). But then Mrs. Jones probably isn’t running her own Manhattan Project in the garage.
Given the touchiness of the world situation I suppose you’re to be commended for keeping your interview with this generation’s Führer from slipping into rabid incoherency. Unfortunately, while clobbering His Excellency with kudos about his sartorial discernment you neglected to ask him the three questions all of America wanted answered: Is he a vegetarian? Does he like dogs? Is he fond of live children?
I guess I see your point about problems with the neighbors. Some people are so darn hard to get along with – they eat, sleep, study, go to the beach, win Nobel prizes - but the worst thing about them is they’re always there. You just know they’re still breathing even when you can’t hear them. What is one to do about such people, anyway?
Please don’t think of yourself as having failed. Nobody fails any more, or haven’t you heard. Give yourself a nice, fat Harvard B- and sip a cognac or two while awaiting your call from the Duranty Prize nominating committee. In the meantime, you might want to work on your manner a bit. Middle-Eastern potentates, even elected ones, look for signs of obsequiousness from their interviewers. Even though your voice might be atremble with suppressed rapture, a continual display of teeth may still not convey the right degree of sucking up. Next time try dry-washing your hands or, better yet, roll over and whimper for a kitzel.
Good luck and God bless.
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