Thursday, February 16, 2006

Broadcast Journalism: This Is Why Americans Have So Much Respect For The Media

It's their sensitivity, plus--their ability to zero in on the issue. Perfect example: take this actual moment from a transcript of Fox newsman Brit Hume's interview of Vice President Dick Cheney. This was the first public interview granted by Cheney after he accidentally shot his 78 year old friend Harry Whittington during a quail hunting trip at a Texas ranch. (Whittington is still in the hospital, being treated for a heart attack that was triggered by shotgun pellets lodged near his heart.)

From the transcript:

Cheney: (Whittington had caught) part of the shot. He was struck in the right side of his face, his neck and his upper torso on the right side of his body.

Hume: And you — and I take it, you missed the bird?

See how Hume "zeroed in" on the real issue there? That's the difference between a professional like Hume and an amateur like me. Questions like that are why Hume's getting the big money and I'm out here on the Internet playing with myself.

You can see why Cheney chose Fox News and Brit Hume in particular to present his side of the story. Sure, they discuss the shooting of Whittington, too--but an old newshound like Hume never takes his eye off the ball, not even for a second. The importance of that question--"And you--and I take it, you missed the bird?"--is that it cuts to the heart of the matter--what is this story really about? Given the limited time I have to interview the Vice President, what does the audience really want to know?

They want to know if he got that bird, that's what they really would like to know. They already know Cheney shot this old guy, but did he get that quail? Who's covering that angle of the story? Brit Hume, that's who. He's the TV newsman who "keeps his eyes on the prize," he'll get the answers we want to know. Look how Cheney's caught off balance by Hume's question:

Hume: And you — and I take it, you missed the bird?

Cheney: I have no idea. I mean, you focused on the bird, but as soon as I fired and saw Harry there, everything else went out of my mind. I don't know whether the bird went down or didn't.

You can tell how Hume's penetrating question threw Cheney for a loop, momemtarily. I never heard Cheney answer any question with "I have no idea".

But Hume knows. He knows. When you're quail hunting, you're not out there to fill out accident reports--you're out there to get some quail. And if it's a hunting trip, the key question, at the end of the day, is not going to be "did you shoot that old man", it's going to be "did you get that bird?"

What if Hume had stayed the course and pursued this line of inquiry? We might have learned a lot more.

Hume: Come on, Mr. Vice President. You know whether you got that bird or not.
Cheney: No, really, I don't.
Hume: Hmmm... Do the birds jump around a lot, when you shoot them?
Cheney: Well... Some of them do, some of them just drop--
Hume: HA HA HA, I'll bet they do; I'll bet they drop like a rock!
Cheney: Well...
Hume: I'll bet they drop like rocks, with two hundred pellets of shot in them! HA HA HA! Little bird-bastards, I calls 'em! Listen, Mr. Vice-President, how much does a quail hunting trip like that cost?
Cheney: Oh, I don't know... I go for free...
Hume: What do you say you take me next time?
Cheney: You want to go?
Hume: You bet I do! We'll go back to that same ranch you were at, and we'll get that little bird-bastard you were shooting at when you hit the old man.
Cheney: Well, I don't know if I could find that particular bird again...
Hume: I'll find him! You bet I will, I'm with Fox News. I'll find that little bird-bastard. You go hunting, you come back with a bird, right? Am I right? Come on, let's go.

Then the whole thing turns into a continuing investigative series. Or maybe a reality TV show, I don't know. But Hume knows. He knows.


At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Deer shot which is a much larger pellet than bird shot would have torn his head clean off. When I hunt for lawyer, I use Deer shot.


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