Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chumming with Chavez

Late last night, I saw this interview in the Nation with Hugo Chavez. It was the most sycophantic pandering I'd seen in print for a long time and I sent it round to friends citing it as a reason for pride that I no longer work for the Nation. I intended to post on it this morning but Marc Cooper to whom I'd sent the piece was faster off the mark. I republish his comments with my approval and plaudits.


Pillow Talk With Hugo

As a reporter, I've conducted interviews in myriad places: in a closet, in a church pew, in bars, steam baths, back alleys, jail cells, and often in the back seat of a car. But I've never done one in bed, at least not while simultaneously embracing my subject.

That was apparently the methodology employed by professor and writer Greg Gandin in this pillow talk session with Hugo Chavez.

About the only thing missing from the edited transcript are notations when puffs of post-coital smoke were being emitted. Oh yeah, one other thing missing: any real questions!

Gandin, who is a published expert on Latin America, was so smitten with his partner that instead of posing any substantial questions, he was happy to serve as little more than a human TeLePrompTer. He merely uttered periodic cues allowing the Venezuelan caudillo an opportunity to continue what was essentially his uninterrupted and unchallenged and self-serving monologue. Frankly, Larry King did a much better (and not at all antagonistic) interview with Chavez last week and Larry ain't no tenured prof.

Now, Gandin has the perfect right to dissent from my critical view of Hugo and be as ardent a supporter as he chooses of Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution. But, I swear, if I were literally on the payroll of the Venezuelan government I wouldn't put out a piece of embarrassing fluff like this. I would, for my and my employer's own propaganda purposes, at least pretend to be asking a few critical questions...if for no other reason than to be teeing up soft balls for my client to whack out of the park. Wasn't that Tim Russert's perfectly honed method of appearing tough while really being a pushover for the powerful? You ask all the critical questions, but you do no follow up -- thereby allowing your subject the opportunity to knock down all his or her critics.

Gandin is not an employee of Chavez and I am not even vaguely implying that. He's just an ideologically-driven, starry-eyed instrument for Chavez and, in the end, apparently lacks sufficient confidence in El Presidente to be able to handle the most manageable of challenges.

I'm a contributing editor to The Nation where this piece appears but I am completely outside of the editorial loop (I have not been an employee of the The Nation for nearly two years). But it leaves me somewhat baffled why the editors allow this sort of foolishness to take place under their name. It only undermines their credibility. And even as a partisan journal of opinion, even if there is a conscious pro-Chavez consensus as an editorial position, you don't advance it by publishing such unabashed pablum.

I will be using this interview in my classes on interviewing as a prime example of how NOT to do one.

Hat tip to my old pal and former Nation U.N. correspondent, Ian Williams, who sent around an email calling attention to this piece.

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