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Answer The Questions. All of Them. Often.

Thursday, February 26, 2015  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Answer The Questions.  All of Them.  Often.

After a week of memorable interviews on my radio show, including Jeb Bush (audio and transcript here), Donald Trump (audio and transcript here) Rick Perry (audio and transcript here), Reince Priebus (audio and transcript here), Donald Rumsfeld (audio and transcript here) Bill O’Reilly (audio and transcript here), David Corn (audio and transcript here), Chuck Todd (audio and transcript here) Jon Allen (audio and transcript here), and of course Mark Steyn (audio and transcript here,) I have come to three conclusions of possible use to people invited to be interviewed.  These rules about being interviewed apply whether one is a candidate, an official or former official, or a journalist.

Rule One: If you want to sell anything –a candidacy, a message, a byline (and especially books)– accept as many interviews as possible, giving priority to those settings with the largest audience, but understanding that ultimate audience often depends upon amplification of the first interview by social media.  Thus do Mediaite, IJ Review, and The Federalist plus the more traditional media/political reporters at a host of key outlets such as Bloomberg PoliticsThe Daily Caller, The Hill, National JournalNational Review Online, Politico, Roll CallTime, The Washington Free Beacon, The Washington Post, The Washington Examiner and of course our own Townhall.com using Twitter serve as amplifiers of message. (The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are slower to use secondary material, even in the Twitter feeds of their reporters, but are changing to keep up with the times.)

Rule Two: If asked a question, answer that question in a straightforward, responsive way.  Brief answers are fine, slightly longer ones better to allow the host some time to hear and prepare a follow-up if necessary or to figure out where to go next, and full answers are best provided they don’t go past the magic one-minute mark, but contentious, rambling off-topic discourses hurt the person giving the answer and does not help in the delivery of the message.  Contrast O’Reilly’s answers to me with those given by David Corn.  Both were regarded as tough interviews, but Corn fared terribly in most eyes –O’Reilly helped himself with my conversation– because Corn was defensive and whiney, threatened repeatedly to hang up and quarreled with nearly every question.  Of course when you agree to an interview, you aren’t accepting an invitation to a debate, but to answer questions.

Which brings me to a corollary of Rule Two: There are no “gotcha questions” even if there are “gotcha answers.”  The National Journal’s Ron Fornier wrote an excellent column on this subject yesterday.   Everyone entering into the interview has to be prepared to answer –or decline to answer– every question, and to do so with grace and humor.  Read Fornier on Clinton’s answer to the baseball question.  Yes, there are difficult questions and lines of inquiry, but that’s what thinking and rehearsing are for, and that’s why Rule Three below is so key.  But there aren’t any questions that are off-limits, and if a question is inappropriate, the interviewee just ought to declare “That’s an inappropriate question designed to injure me and I respectfully decline to answer it.”  You may get a follow-up or two or three, but if indeed the question is inappropriate and thus off-limits for some reason, the audience won’t fault you for declining to answer it even repeatedly.

Corollary two of Rule Two: When possible, go longer, not shorter.  Rushing an interviewer makes him or her try to accomplish too much in too little time.  We who conduct interviews are used to filibusters, hate them, tend to step on filibusters to get to something of interest to the audience.  Allowing for 30 minute sit-downs seems to me a minimum, but sometimes a quarter-hour will do.  Length is the interviewee’s friend, not enemy.  Length allows for humor and personality to surface, and for complete answers to complicated questions.  In the new era, you aren’t checking off boxes by compiling lists of those you have sat down with, you are reaching deep into the social media world via every new subject matter covered, every question asked and answered.  Give yourself time to make the connections and sell.

(Note: While there are no “gotcha questions,” there are “ambush questions” which arrive without warning from people with whom you haven’t agreed to an interview.  These can be ignored.)

Finally, Rule Three: Give a lot of interviews, especially if you have a message to convey or a profile to build, and especially if you are running for the presidency.  The biggest audiences are best, but radio is long form and television usually isn’t, so both platforms are necessary.  If being interviewed for a text-only platform, ask for a transcript to be posted somewhere online or arrange for it yourself.  And when transcripts are available, use your own team to guide the Twitterverse to those portions of the interview you wish to emphasize.  But give lots and lots of interviews on outlets with audiences of both numbers and/or influencers.  Practice does indeed make perfect, and being in the fray has its own reward of toughening up your Q-and-A skills while extending your message/brand/byline into the constantly churning media scrum.

Wednesday’s interview with Jeb Bush gave a perfect example of a candidate using one audience –mine– to prepare for another: Jeb Bush is sitting down with Sean Hannity at CPAC this week.  It also served to sharpen messages Bush had delivered already.  (I chose to interview Bush about national security, a subject he had spoken on and been questioned about in Chicago last week, but which didn’t attract much attention to the substance of his remarks, only the phrase he used about his father and brother.)  Bush also demonstrated humor, relaxation and security with me –he did not object to one question– as well as the necessary willingness to declare himself not ready to discuss in detail one subject –the Navy’s strength, including carrier numbers and the replacement of the Ohio-class SSBNs– while nevertheless being in command of a general knowledge that allowed for a good answer on the topic.  None of this is surprising.  Bush has given, what, ten thousand interviews in his career as candidate and governor?

Some have charged that Bush is as rusty as the Tin Man before Dorothy arrived, but he’s getting his swings in for the new season, and I expect more of the same sort of sit-downs with me and other conservative and MSM journalists.  Perry, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, who have all been on my show in the last couple of weeks, are doing the same thing as Bush, as are the rest of the field with the exception of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie who continues to avoid extended conversations with journalists outside of his own state.  Almost all of the would-be 2016 nominees are at CPAC this week, pressing more flesh and going in harm’s way on radio row, and they are all moving towards big audience debates and big sit downs with folks like Todd on Meet the Press, Stephanopoulos on This Week, Schieffer on Face the Nation, Wallace on Fox news Sunday and whomever CNN eventually designates to run State of the Nation.  The Sunday show circuit provides the hottest lights because of the amplification effect of things said and seen on those sets, but the new media world doesn’t allow a stately progress through small coffees and Townhalls until a sudden round of Sunday shows a month before Iowa caucuses.

Not just candidates, but journalists fighting for market share and officials trying hard to sell policies or legislators laws or the importance of hearings have to follow these rules.  If they really want to sell effectively whatever it is they are pitching.

Answer the questions. All of them.  Often.  You may or may not rise in the polls or the public’s love, but at least you won’t fail out of the gate for refusing to take the opportunities offered to sell yourself or your message.

 

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“What the h*** kind of country are we?”

Thursday, February 26, 2015  |  posted by John Schroeder

That headline was the closing of a brief text message I received yesterday from a friend.  His concern was the ultimate fate of Assyrian Christians that are currently being abducted by ISIS.  He was praying that the abductions would be humane, but concerned that if they were not (which is likely given ISIS behavior to date) the administration would simply stand idly by.  I wish I could reassure him, but this administration’s behavior gives me no facts on which to rely.

The good news is we remain a good country.  We are simply at the moment a good country with a deeply flawed presidential administration.  What concerns me is the “root cause” of the flaws, he said ironically borrowing a phrase from the current administration.  Without getting into the fever swamps of a hidden Islamic agenda, I see two possible causes. One cause could be a lack of intellectual ability and training to see that ISIS is a threat to the world, not just the region.  The other could be a grossly misaligned sense of compassion.

Continue Reading

Transcript

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush On 2016, “A Third Bush War,” And Big Government Conservatism

Wednesday, February 25, 2015  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush joined me today to talk all things 2106:

Audio:

02-25hhs-bush

Transcript:

HH: I’m pleased to begin this hour with former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush. Governor Bush, welcome back to the program, great to talk to you.

JB: How are you doing, Hugh? Everything’s good in Miami.

HH: Terrific. Well, we’ve got LeBron, so it can’t be that great in Miami.

JB: Oh, that leaves a mark, my friend.

HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, when it comes down to politics, if it turns out that you and Senator Rubio run against each other in Florida, would either of you want Urban Meyer’s endorsement?

JB: Yeah.

HH: You would?

JB: I’d take him.

HH: Okay, just checking. That helps in Ohio, but I thought he left Florida with a little bit of a bad…

JB: It could be a two-fer, and the last time I checked, Florid and Ohio are like the two most important states.

HH: Okay, we’ll give you Urban Meyer, then. Governor, I watched with interest your speech in Chicago last week, and I’d like to play the key sort of 45 seconds of it for the audience. Here’s what you said at the Chicago Foreign Affairs Council.

JB: I’ve been fortunate to have a father and a brother who helped shape America’s foreign policy from the Oval Office. I recognize that as a result, my views will often be held up in comparison to theirs. In fact, this is a great, fascinating thing in the political world for some reason, sometimes in contrast to theirs. Look, just for the record, one more time, I love my brother. I love my dad. I actually love my mother as well. I hope that’s okay. And I admire their service to the nation and the difficult decisions that they had to make. But I’m my own man, and my views are shaped by my own thinking and my own experiences. Each president learns from those who came before – their principles, their adjustments. One thing we know is this. Every president inherits a changing world and changing circumstances. Continue Reading

Transcript

Donald Trump On 2016 And Trolling The GOP

Wednesday, February 25, 2015  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

Donald Trump joined me Wednesday to talk about whether or not he’ll be on the stage when I am asking questions in the fall:

Audio:

02-25hhs-trump

Transcript:

HH: Pleased to welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show now Donald Trump. Mr. Trump, welcome, it’s great to have you on the program.

DT: It’s great to be with you, Hugh.

HH: I read yesterday you hired Chuck Laudner in Iowa. Is that true?

DT: That is true. I’ve had a lot of respect for him for a long time. I really know the people of Iowa very well. They all feel the same way. He’s a really, just a great guy.

HH: Now it was announced yesterday I’m going to be asking some questions of the presidential candidates in September at the Reagan Library. Are you going to be on that stage?

DT: I very well may. I mean, we’re going to look at it very seriously. We have been looking at it very seriously. You know, the country is doing horribly, to put it mildly, like a laughing stock, actually. And we’re run by incompetent people with incompetent leadership, and I think that I am going to surprise a lot of people if I say a certain word known as yes.

HH: And when do you have to have make that decision by, Donald Trump?

DT: I would say sometime prior to June, June or prior to, during the month of, maybe, but right around that territory.

HH: I’ll come back to the politics in a moment. The questions I’ll be asking in Simi Valley will be about national security, I hope.

DT: Right.

HH: …because people always want to know is the person who wants to be president qualified to be the commander-in-chief. Quick question, have you read The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?

DT: Excuse me? I didn’t hear you.

HH: Have you read the book, The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright?

DT: I have not.

HH: How about the new Atlantic article about ISIS, called What ISIS Really Wants?

DT: I’ve seen it. I haven’t, I sort of got a synopsis of it, but if you look at what’s going on, it’s almost obvious what ISIS wants. I mean, they want domination. They want complete domination. And they’ve wanted it for a long time. And it’s disgraceful that we’re allowing this to happen. Continue Reading

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