I’ve watched this Rand Paul interview with Savannah Guthrie a few times, and though there are several angles one could take with this, I keep coming back to one main point: These are the exact kinds of questions journalists ought to ask.
Guthrie’s goal is to inform the public, not to merely be a conduit for Paul — or anyone else — to spout talking points.
Their most “testy” exchange occurred when Guthrie recounted the fact that Paul (in 2007) said Iran was not a threat, noted that he has proposed ending foreign aid to Israel, and previously wanted to cut defense spending. These were not only legitimate ways to preface a question to Paul — but also important things to recount — inasmuch as the casual viewer is probably unfamiliar with the past positions and statements of a given politician (who surely isn’t going to bring them up, himself).
Not only did Paul interrupt Guthrie, accusing her of “editorializing,” but he then proceeded to lecture her on the appropriate way to conduct an interview. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on,” he said, “why don’t you ask me a question, ‘Have I changed my opinion?’ That would be sort of a better way to approach an interview.”
Perhaps she can lecture him on eye surgery the next time?
Politicians don’t want to answer tough questions, nor do they want to address inconvenient facts — including past positions which are now out of step with the zeitgeist. Surely, it is frustrating for candidates to encounter a questioner who wants to bring up such things — especially when they’ve been trained to stick to their message, parry difficult questions, and generally spin us.
This is the kind of questioning that all politicians (Republicans and Democrats) ought to be subject to more often.
I’m not just picking on Rand Paul here. To his credit, back in 2010, then-candidate Marco Rubio granted a ton of access to center-right journalists. Having interviewed him numerous times, I discovered that (even back then), Rubio was an incredibly gifted communicator who could riff on almost any topic ad nauseam, without committing gaffes.
What I discovered, however, was that you had to interrupt him — otherwise he would essentially deliver a speech.
So I interrupted one such soliloquy (in order to clarify something he had just said), and discovered that was the key to getting him off script. It wasn’t a terribly rude thing for me to do, but it resulted in Rubio making a bit of news. During the campaign, he had been stressing his opposition to Obamacare, but now he had conceded there were some provisions — including the pre-existing condition clause, and allowing “people up to the age of 26” to stay on their parents’ insurance plan — that he would keep. (Jim Geraghty documented it all here.)
There’s a saying that, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” The same is true of interviewers. If you only ever play by The Marquess of Queensberry rules, you’ll merely end up being a megaphone for politicians. You won’t make any news, and nobody will learn anything authentic, surprising, or telling about the politicians. I’m with Savannah on this one.