BEATING TIM RUSSERT

Slate’s Jack Shafer has an excellent piece on Tim Russert, specifically his interview style which seems to derail many of his guests.

Russert frustrates the candidates by knowing their positions on issues better than they do—where they’ve stumbled, where they’ve flip-flopped, and where they’re most likely to embarrass themselves under the kliegs. Plotting his interviews out like chess matches, he deploys aggressive openings, subtle feints, artfully constructed traps, and lightning offenses to crack the politicians’ phony veneer and reveal the genuine veneer beneath. But a study of Meet the Press transcripts reveals that Russert relies too heavily on a formula. He can be beat.

One-time grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and permanent white-supremacist nut job David Duke beat Russert badly in March 1999, when he appeared on Meet the Press during his Louisiana campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives. Unable to stick it to Duke with his time-proven techniques, Russert sputtered, steamed, and almost boiled over.

Shafer lays out a five part strategy that I won’t bother to excerpt; read, as they say, the whole thing.

One point, though, strikes me as particularly dead-on:

Remember, this is your interview, not his. Too many of Russert’s guests allow him to fling enormous, mattress-sized paragraphs at them that are far too complicated to answer on television. Interrupt him when a question needs clarification. Interrupt him when he’s startled you with something fresh. Interrupt him back when he interrupts you. Interrupt him for the hell of it. It drives him crazy, and when he’s crazy, he loses his place in the script, his face goes a tad red, and he loses his momentum. Duke successfully interrupted Russert in 1999, forcing Russert to request, “Let me finish”—something guests usually say.

Indeed. Ross Perot, for example.

See more analysis at Rhetorica.

(Hat tip: Brett Marston)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.