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Posted by on Sep 11, 2007 in Media | 30 comments

General Petraeus’ Exclusive Interview On Fox News


Shouldn’t they have called the show “Softball?”

Question: Did whoever decided to restrict General Petraeus to ONLY getting “interviewed” by Fox News after his remarks to Congress think most Americans fell off the turnip truck?

Generally, officials interviewed by professional journalists get tough questions with the interviewer often making a list of questions beforehand that they and their top editors believe are lingering out there.

The idea behind this is NOT that journalists are evil and out to “get” anyone (the easy explanation some on the right and left immediately use when a news organization runs something unfavorable to someone they like…and then when the same news organization blasts someone they don’t like, it’s a great organization), but the journalist is supposed to be the proxy for the public and ask questions that people are asking — not limiting questions so the really tough questions are not asked.

Limiting questions to make sure that sources don’t get the really tough ones, and keep them from being challenged vigorously about key assertions, is usually the work of public relations people (who do have an important function and role and do some great work but don’t generally interviews on newscasts).

The result, if the news source answers them head on, is an increase in the legitimacy of the person being interviewed — because the person addresses negative perceptions or information.

It’s like someone trying to sell a product or going for a job interview: the need is to overcome all objections.

A pablum feeding P.R. interview boomerangs: it gets journalists who were excluded mad (and they are then determined to get their tough questions out later on in other forums…but get them out), does NOT enhance the legitimacy of the news source and those who opposed or question the news source all along see the softball interview as an act of news control…and fear of tough questions.

Which this most assuredly seemed to be.

P.S. Most Americans did not fall of the turnip truck so all this will do — again — is be seen as an interview aimed at the Republican party’s base. And Petraeus lost the chance to immediately get his message out to non-Fox News fans via other outlets. He may talk to others later on (such as to a morning show…or will that be only on Fox, too?). But the damage to him and a chance at smarter PR has been lost.

In terms of understanding the value of having Petraeus make himself available to a wide variety of news organizations, and not play favorites by limiting his first interview to a company widely perceived as being the administration’s best bud, whoever set up the interview must have…fallen off the turnip truck.

With a loud thump.

UPDATE: Taylor Marsh watched the interview and calls interviewer Britt Hume “The Britney Spears of Journallism.” (Yes, some could consider what Mr. Hume was doing a lip sync of sorts…)