Sunday, October 09, 2005

Outside the Filter

London's Sunday Times offers an excerpt from Alleluia America!: An Irish Journalist in Bush Country by Carole Coleman, the Irish television journalist who created quite a huff back in June 2004 by actually asking tough questions with follow-up points of our President... which elicited the White House lodging a formal complaint with the Irish Government because they felt she was pushy and not deferential enough to the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (read that in a commanding voice with bombastic, Wagnerian music playing in the back of your mind). It's quite illuminating as to how managed these press interviews are, and how foreign it is for our PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES to actually be called on the bullshit he's spreading. Below are some excerpts from the, erm, excerpt, but it's a good read in full. You can also view the actual interview in Real Video formate at the RTE site (the Irish television network) to see what all the hub-bub was all about.

(Note: the link to the book goes to Amazon UK; it's not currently slated for publishing here in the States as far as I can tell.)

Having noted the tone of my questions, the president had now sat forward in his chair and had become animated, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. But as I listened to the history of Saddam Hussein and the weapons inspectors and the UN resolutions, my heart was sinking. He was resorting to the type of meandering stock answer I had heard scores of times and had hoped to avoid. Going back over this old ground could take two or three minutes and allow him to keep talking without dealing with the current state of the war. It was a filibuster of sorts. If I didn’t challenge him, the interview would be a wasted opportunity.

“But, Mr President, you didn’t find any weapons,” I interjected.

“Let me finish, let me finish. May I finish?”

With his hand raised, he requested that I stop speaking. He paused and looked me straight in the eye to make sure I had got the message. He wanted to continue, so I backed off and he went on. “The United Nations said, ‘Disarm or face serious consequences’. That’s what the United Nations said. And guess what? He didn’t disarm. He didn’t disclose his arms. And therefore he faced serious consequences. But we have found a capacity for him to make a weapon. See, he had the capacity to make weapons . . .”

I was now beginning to feel shut out of this event. He had the floor and he wasn’t letting me dance. My blood was boiling to such a point that I felt like slapping him. But I was dealing with the president of the United States; and he was too far away anyway. I suppose I had been naive to think that he was making himself available to me so I could spar with him or plumb the depths of his thought processes. Sitting there, I knew that I was nobody special and that this was just another opportunity for the president to repeat his mantra. He seemed irked to be faced with someone who wasn’t nodding gravely at him as he was speaking.

“But Mr President,” I interrupted again, “the world is a more dangerous place today. I don’t know whether you can see that or not.”

“Why do you say that?”

“There are terrorist bombings every single day. It’s now a daily event. It wasn’t like that two years ago.”

“What was it like on September 11 2001? It was a . . . there was relative calm, we . . .”

“But it’s your response to Iraq that’s considered . . .”

“Let me finish. Let me finish. Please. You ask the questions and I’ll answer them, if you don’t mind.”

His hand was raised again as if to indicate that he was not going to tolerate this. Again, I felt I had no choice but to keep quiet.

“On September 11 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion. Everybody thought the world was calm. There have been bombings since then — not because of my response to Iraq. There were bombings in Madrid, there were bombings in Istanbul. There were bombings in Bali. There were killings in Pakistan.”

He seemed to be finished, so I took a deep breath and tried once again. So far, facial expressions were defining this interview as much as anything that was said, so I focused on looking as if I was genuinely trying to fathom him.
I was removing my microphone when he addressed me.

“Is that how you do it in Ireland — interrupting people all the time?”

I froze. He was not happy with me and was letting me know it.

“Yes,” I stuttered, determined to maintain my own half-smile.
My phone rang. It was MC [ed note - White House media handler], and her voice was cold.

“We just want to say how disappointed we are in the way you conducted the interview,” she said.

“How is that?” I asked.

“You talked over the president, not letting him finish his answers.”

“Oh, I was just moving him on,” I said, explaining that I wanted some new insight from him, not two-year-old answers.

“He did give you plenty of new stuff.”

She estimated that I had interrupted the president eight times and added that I had upset him. I was upset too, I told her.
“I’m here with Colby,” she indicated.


“You were given an opportunity to interview the leader of the free world and you blew it,” she began.

I was beginning to feel as if I might be dreaming. I had naively believed the American president was referred to as the “leader of the free world” only in an unofficial tongue-in-cheek sort of way by outsiders, and not among his closest staff.

“You were more vicious than any of the White House press corps or even some of them up on Capitol Hill . . .The president leads the interview,” she said.

“I don’t agree,” I replied, my initial worry now turning to frustration. “It’s the journalist’s job to lead the interview.”

It was suggested that perhaps I could edit the tapes to take out the interruptions, but I made it clear that this would not be possible.

As the conversation progressed, I learnt that I might find it difficult to secure further co-operation from the White House. A man’s voice then came on the line. Colby, I assumed. “And, it goes without saying, you can forget about the interview with Laura Bush.”


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