Same boat as the audience

A tribute to Larry King, as I'm thinking about today. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Back in the mid-2000s, I got to know Larry King a little bit.

He was still doing Larry King Live on CNN then, based out of the CNN studio near Union Station in Washington, DC. I was working as the lead reporting assistant to Bob Woodward of The Washington Post at the time, and Larry often had Bob on the show.

So we’d take a cab across town, and I’d watch Bob and Larry do their thing in the dark studio—and I’d try to stay out of the way.

King passed away earlier this year, at age 87. And I suppose it’s because we’re launching the new edition of the crowd-sourced video series today that I’ve been thinking a bit about what I learned from him.

Honestly, this was a great juxtaposition for me: King and Woodward.

Both were always excellent interviewers, but the big difference is that King interviewed people with a live audience, while Woodward is like an empathetic machine—doing one interview after another after another, usually behind closed doors.

(Last September—which, I grant you, seems like the Cretaceous period now— Woodward’s latest book came out. It was about President Trump—and it emerged that Woodward had done 18 on-the-record interviews with the then-president.)

Anyway, when it came to King, I remember being struck that there was no "act." The Larry King you saw on TV was the same person I saw in the studio.

(That was also true of Woodward, by the way.)

In a 2017 Q&A on the website of Columbia Journalism Review, King went deep, revealing most of his interviewing secrets. They went like this:

First, he wasn’t afraid to betray his ignorance. He understood that ignorance doesn't mean stupidity; it means a lack of knowledge. Admitting to it can sometimes be a very smart move.

  • King: "I don't know more law than a lawyer. I don't know more politics than a politician. ... I don't know more medicine than a doctor. ... I'm a pure layman who's intensely curious. What I do have is a sense of pace. I know when something's going well; I know how to draw people out."

Second, he listened to the answers. Not to betray my profession, but I'm sometimes amazed that interviewers don't really listen carefully to the answers to their questions; they simply move on to their next point.

  • King: "I hate interviewers who come with a long list of prepared questions. ... I concentrate solely on the answer, and I trust my instincts to come up with [more] questions."

Third, he didn’t over-prepare. If you were going to be on King's show because you had written a book, odds were good that he wouldn't have read it ahead of time. He said this helped him approach the interview from the point of view of his audience.

  • King: "I'm in the same boat as the audience; they haven't read the book. So we're all in this together."

Fourth, he kept control of his emotions. The "hardest" interviews, King said, were the ones in which he vehemently disagreed with his guests, but worked hard to keep himself and his feelings out of the equation. The only times he wasn't able to do that, he said, were when interviewing people who were blatantly racist.

  • King: “It's not good to argue with the guest. Maybe it’s interesting for the audience, but it puts you out of control. When you argue, you're not in control."

Finally, he gave a bit of that control to his interview subjects. An irony: King had a reputation for being a bit of a "safe" interview for celebrities. But because of that, they sometimes wound up revealing more than they meant to.

King used the example of his 1988 interview with Frank Sinatra. The one condition for the interview was that King had to agree not to bring up the 1963 kidnapping of Sinatra's son. (I had to look this up; Sinatra paid a ransom and his son was released.) But then:

  • King: “In the middle of the interview, we're really in touch. And I asked him, 'The thing with you and the pressis it overdone, or have you been bum-rapped?' He says, ‘Well, it might have been overdone. But I've been bum-rapped. Take my son's kidnapping.’ He brought it up. I just was asking good questions. And that's the framework in which I like to work.”

I don’t know how much of this I’ll have to put into practice today, but I think we’ll have a good interview with NYT-bestselling author and Billions consultant Turney Duff.

We’re over-subscribed for this event. Which means that if you’re a paid member who signed up, be on the lookout in the next couple of hours for an invitation and the Zoom link to join the call.

Time: 1 pm ET today. Zoom link to follow.

I’ll have some room for people on the wait list, but not a ton. Check your email and notifications.

(By the way, for today, we’re doing this on Zoom; I’m not sure that’s how we’ll do them all going forward, but we have to start somewhere.)

Finally: Just to be clear, I am going to post the video to YouTube and other streaming services afterward. So if you don’t want to risk being seen on the video, don’t turn your camera on, etc.

See you there—well, a lot of you—at 1 pm ET.

Leave a comment

7 other things worth your time

  • “The World Health Organization … will start assigning different letters of the Greek alphabet to each new mutation of the virus.” Part of the rationale: to avoid the stigma that’s become attached to certain geographic areas where mutations were first discovered, because up until now, the place names were part of the naming conventions. (NPR)

  • A weekend cyber attack forced the shutdown of nearly all of the US beef plants owned by the world’s largest meat producer, which account for about a quarter of the nation’s supply. But the company, JBS SA, says it’s made “‘significant progress’ … and will have the ‘vast majority’ of its plants operational” on Wednesday. (Yahoo Finance)

  • China now wants families to have more kids. But so far, Chinese families don’t seem all that excited about the idea. (CNBC)

  • Fewer drivers and surging demand: If you’re planning to ride Uber or Lyft, get ready to pay more for the same rides you used to take. (NYT)

  • Other states give money and college scholarships. West Virginia officials announced Tuesday that their state “will be giving away guns as an incentive to get residents of the state inoculated against COVID-19.” (The Hill)

  • You’re likely familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Here’s something I hadn’t realized: For some people, the summer months are the difficult ones. “People who love summer, they don’t get it. And up here, most people love summer.” (NYT)

  • This is just a quote, but it’s a heck of one. Venus Williams, explaining how she learned to deal with hostile press questions, in the wake of Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open: “For me personally, how I deal with it was that I know every single person asking me a question can’t play as well as I can and never will, so no matter what you say or what you write, you’ll never light a candle to me.” (Twitter)

    Leave a comment

Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Preston Kemp on Flickr. A version of part of this newsletter previously ran on Inc.comWant to see all my mistakes? Click here

If you liked this post, please click that little heart icon (♡) below, and/or try the “instant feedback” stars (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) below (back by popular demand). And, well, you know: take the survey. :) 

One-click review and feedback: