TV Makes Us Look Stupid
Lauren Green’s interview of Reza Aslan (transcript) has been shared widely not because it is in any way insightful or informative, but because of how bad it makes her look. I feel her performance is explainable.
The camera may add ten pounds, but it subtracts 30 IQ points. Interviews are not conducive to reflection. Questions need to be answered quickly and in grammatical sentences. Also, be interesting! And intonate! And is your posture fine? Are you sure?
Your unprepared remarks will be judged with the same scrutiny as the prepared remarks of others. If you listen to the first minute or two of the interview a second or third time, you will recognize that what Aslan says is rehearsed. He came in knowing the first question and had an appropriately aggressive answer ready. He practiced that at home a dozen times with his wife and then did the same thing in the interview. Green, meanwhile, appears to be reading through comments posted on the web to throw at Aslan. This seemed most obvious to me around 6:50.
Multitasking is hard. Green probably should have prepared her questions rather than try to curate a web feed in the middle of an interview, but once the process was set (by her or her supervisors), she was made the fool. They should have recognized that the cognitive load involved would be too high for anyone to handle–especially in a hostile interview. She needed all her attention to read questions and had none of it to spare for her guest. As viewers, all we see is a professional newswoman five steps behind her nonprofessional guest.
Being smart isn’t enough. Up until some years ago, media in general, and video media specifically, seemed shallow to me. I could not imagine how someone of much depth could stoop to producing content for most news sources.
Since then, I did some media interviews for various TV and print sources in my capacity as a business school professor. I was consistently amazed at the depth of thinking reflected by the people who interviewed me. This includes local news channels, which some consider the most shallow of all media sources. My interviewers challenged me in a way I found surprising.
I can’t say, however, that the resulting pieces reflected the full merits their creators.
Based on what I know about the process, I would be unsurprised to talk with Lauren Green and find that she is a more reflective and intelligent person than I am who was caught in an situation destined to make her look a fool. This is not to excuse the atrocious quality of the final product, but it is to understand it.