Well gee, Geoff. What do you know about this subject? I hosted a community chat show on my local community radio station (WCOM) in Carrboro, NC. Apparently, I got quite a reputation for ‘English-style’ interviewing. All I know is that I asked questions, and demanded answers. However, some tips for Bill Maher (after his disastrous interview with Milo Yiannopoulos); in fact, for any interviewer:
1) Nothing wrong with inviting controversial guests. I understand folks have an issue about ‘promoting’ or ‘normalizing’ hate. It all comes down to the interviewer. For myself, unless someone is completely, immutably and egregiously unacceptable. And for me, that means something like they insist on chewing baby parts while being interviewed. Then frankly, I trust myself enough to be able to interview them. It is my fervent opinion that you do not curb hate by ignoring it or censoring it. When I had my radio program in Carrboro, the station manager tried to stop me interviewing Republicans. I ignored his ban. I take the view that progressivism in action requires that we offer to the electorate the widest possible range of views. And then trust them to make up their own minds. Anything less makes us no better than Trump.
2) Know your subject inside out. I never spent less than 40 hours researching each and every one of my guests, and their pet subjects. Be ready to chop and change if you feel yourself losing grip.
3) Remember the absolute golden rule of the interview. This is your interview. You control it. You work out beforehand every possible way the guest, especially a loudmouth, is going to try to take control. And you have a counter. They get quiet while hating. You ask, how can you be so quiet while saying something so hateful? They attack you. You repost: why attack me for just asking questions? Plus, the greatest fallback since God invented ‘bless your heart’? Look dude. There’s folks out there who want to know about this.
4) If you know you are facing someone who is going to be controversial, put them on the back foot from the very beginning. And keep them there the whole time. Under no circumstances give them any kind of break. None of this, hey, I’m going to be even-handed. Say it. Sure. But don’t actually mean it. Never meet a hater halfway. Meeting a hater halfway means that, instead of having out-and-out hate-speak, you end up with ‘only’ halfway unpleasant-speak – with wavy hair and sunglasses. Take note of what Milo said. He had an agenda. He knew what he wanted to say. And when the audience had a go at him (as he knew they would), he was ready with a barbed response.
5) It is not your job to keep a guest comfortable. Nor to make them like you. Welcome them nicely. Sit them down. Then, hold them accountable. In civil, but determined fashion.
6) If you’re more worried about ratings, mortgage, the cut of your suit, whatever, more so than holding a guest’s feet to the fire, then don’t invite them on in the first place. They will make you look stupid.
I could go on. The point is. Bill broke every one of these rules. Be upset at him, not Milo. Milo is who he is. He’s never pretended otherwise. Bill got starstruck, and wimped out.