One of the most effective interviewing techniques, one that he used when speaking with President George W. Bush, is simply to invert the questioning, television journalist Charlie Rose said yesterday.
“One of my favorite questions is to simply ask what questions we should be asking you,” Rose said.
Speaking to a packed Levinson Auditorium at the Yale Law School, Rose — the host of PBS’s interview-centric program “The Charlie Rose Show” — imparted wisdom about the art of the interview to students, faculty and local residents. Interspersing journalistic insight with colorful anecdotes from a three-decade career, Rose commented on the state of contemporary journalism and its effect on interviewing.
Though access to large stores of information has increased dramatically with modern technology, Rose said, the human instinct to question — the fundamental principle behind interviewing — has remained constant over time. Referencing the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, Rose said the massacre demonstrated the public’s need to be in the know: Despite the novel ways of communicating the facts of the event, such as cell phone video recordings of the police standoff, the public still was interested in core questions surrounding the event, asking the same questions as any professional interviewer.
“The interview is the one thing that technology and the expansion of the media have not changed,” he said.
In interviewing top political and national figures, Rose said, he has developed basic guidelines to follow. He said rigorous preparation and understanding the personal motivations and sentiments of the interviewee are essential to a successful interview. More abstractly, interviewers must be sure to seize the moment of the interview and take care truly to “engage” the subject, Rose said.
Rose also spoke about the shortcomings of the interview as perceived in the popular imagination. One of the public’s major misunderstandings about the interview, he said, is the belief that some interviewers deliberately go “soft” on their subjects, as opposed to asking “hard” acerbic questions.
“The biggest misperception pervading journalism is that there is a ‘hard’ interview and there is a ‘soft’ interview,” Rose said, suggesting instead that interview techniques are more nuanced.
He said popular interviewers today like Chris Matthews, who hosts Hardball on MSNBC, are not fully appreciated for their techniques, which defy simple classifications. Matthews has a keen ability to grasp the “poetry of politics,” Rose said.
The recent push for more packaged dialogue in media commentary — condensed quotes instead of deep conversations — represents another disturbing trend in the news media, he said, as public demand for such “sound bites” reduce meaningful dialogue. Between the hollow call for national dialogue after events like the Don Imus scandal and the shootings at Virginia Tech, and politicians’ constant use of the word “conversation” in expressing their campaign intentions, the conversational aspects of the interview have been lost, Rose said.
“Because conversations are about [human] nature, not sound bites, they have found a decreasing avenue to be seen on television,” Rose said. “I am part of the process that believes conversations belong on television.”
Those who attended the lecture said that they welcomed the insights of the veteran journalist, noting his reputation for thoughtful interviewing. New Haven resident Jim Newberry said he appreciated hearing from the host of a television show he respects.
“I’ve watched the show over the years, and he did a really good job,” Newberry said.
Brian Mahanna LAW ’09 said that he was intrigued by Rose’s discussion of the evolution of interviewing.
Before creating Charlie Rose in 1991, Rose served as a correspondent for 60 Minutes II and CBS News, among other television news programs.