Mark Twain, Maybe Not An NPR Fan?

The Mark Twain Foundation, together with our sibling in public information, The PBS NewsHour, has recently discovered a new essay of Mark Twain's, in which he discusses the merits, and demerits, of the journalistic interview.  He's not a fan, to put it mildly.

There are plenty of reasons why the Interview is a mistake. One is, that the interviewer never seems to reflect that the wise thing to do, after he has turned on this and that and the other tap, by a multitude of questions, till he has found one that flows freely and with interest, would be to confine himself to that one, and make the best of it, and throw away the emptyings he had secured before. He doesn't think of that. He is sure to shut off that stream with a question about some other matter; and straightway his one poor little chance of getting something worth the trouble of carrying home is gone, and gone for good. It would have been better to stick to the thing his man was interested in talking about, but you would never be able to make him understand that. He doesn't know when you are delivering metal from when you are shoveling out slag, he can't tell dirt from ducats; it's all one to him, he puts in everything you say; then he sees, himself, that it is but green stuff and wasn't worth saying, so he tries to mend it by putting in something of his own which he thinks is ripe, but in fact is rotten. True, he means well, but so does the cyclone.

Given that we work in that cyclone, it's hard to have perspective, but it does seem to me that he's only half-right.  The interview is necessarily a bit of a duel.  The host wants one thing, and often, the guest's agenda doesn't match.  But a good host, should be able to manage both agendas, while getting the most ducats from the dirt.



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