From Stephanie D. Smith
THE BIG GET: Barbara Walters and “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft discussed the dos and don’ts of television journalism at a Tuesday morning breakfast sponsored by The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The two were interviewed by The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta, who writes the magazine’s “Annals of Communications.”
For Walters, the don’ts of good interviewing include not allowing the subject or their handlers to approve questions in advance, or letting subjects offer the same answer to you and your competitors. Take embattled Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor. “Doesn’t matter how many of us did him, we all got the same answer,” she said. Conversely, Walters said that “you must do your homework” before conducting an interview, so “that when you’re stuck, you almost know more about the person than they know themselves.”
Both Kroft and Walters agreed one shouldn’t be friends with a subject. Being that Kroft’s show often profiles people or situations once they’ve become infamous rather than famous, “I try to hang out with a group of people that would not really be candidates for ‘60 Minutes,’” he said.
Both believe in the art of asking the obvious. After Auletta asked the duo what the dumbest question they’ve ever asked was, Walters told the classic story of how she asked Katharine Hepburn what kind of tree she would be after the actress likened herself to one. “If somebody says that they’re an old tree, wouldn’t you say ‘what kind of a tree?’” she asked. Kroft agreed, and also said one shouldn’t be afraid to make those less than hard-hitting inquiries. “I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a dumb question, particularly when you’re on tape and you can edit it out later.” — Stephanie D. Smith