We all have these delusions about ourselves. Theses lines in the sand that we draw. These:
I would never
Not in a million years
Over my dead body
They’d have to horse whip me first
You know what’s embedded in such remarks, don’t you?
Yeah, a bit of self-righteousness taking root.
Seems like most of the things I said I would never do I’ve ended up doing. I’m duplicitous that way. And shamefaced about it. So, please excuse me while I violate a rule I thought I would never violate: Taking up for Joan Rivers.
For the record, I have not changed my opinions of her. I don’t find Joan Rivers funny. I find her appalling, mean-spirited and abrasive. She takes snarky to its lowest depth. So, no, I won’t be buying her latest book, Diary of a Mad Diva.
But I applaud Joan Rivers for walking off the set of a CNN interview when the host, Fredricka Whitfield, began asking Joan a litany of questions that were completely irrelevant.
Isn’t it about time we all started holding journalists accountable for sloppy, lazy work?’
It is true that Joan could have been more gracious in her departure. There was no reason to rant at the host the way she did, but Joan was spot on when she accused Ms. Whitfield of turning the interview into a drilling.
I understand how it happens. Too often journalists fail to prepare for the guests they are about to interview. The best do, of course, but the best aren’t necessarily the most high profile. They are usually working long hours at some local newsroom.
Too often it seems the higher up the rank a news anchor goes, the less likely they are to know their topic matter. They are simply terrific at reading teleprompters and paying attention to the clock. All too often they act the Diva themselves. Men and women. That’s why I liked Sorkin’s The Newsroom show so well. It was a revealing depiction of how journalism works in the 24-7 news cycle.
I’d bet my priest’s right leg (if I had a priest) that Ms. Whitfield had not read Ms. Rivers’s book. I can count on one hand the journalists who actually read my work before interviewing me or writing about my work. I’ve been interviewed by some top journalists in the nation, both on television, radio and in the newspaper.
Here’s something those outside the writing world may not be aware of – authors provide press releases that give a summary of the book and suggested questions for the interviewer to ask. The majority of those books you see being touted on television haven’t even been read by the people doing the touting. A lot time the interviewer doesn’t even bother to read the one-page press release.
Shocking, isn’t it?
I worked a newsroom. Several newsrooms, actually. So I understand the pressures. I get it. And there were times when I screwed up royally. Like the time I referred to the highest mucky-mucky in education in the state by the wrong name: Joe Fox. His name was Joe Cox. (I blame Tom Hanks for that one). I made those name errors more than once. It isn’t as easy as you might think to get names right on deadline.
But having been on both sides of the interview desk for years now, I have come to regard journalists who prepare ahead of time with a sense of awe. It’s like meeting a unicorn in person.
Ms. Whitfield turned what should have been a relatively painless interview into her worst nightmare, a humiliation she’ll not soon forget. Had she read Ms. Rivers’s book, had she read any of Ms. Rivers’s work, she could have dug deep and asked insightful, enlightening questions in a manner that would not have been off-putting.
The critical step too many journalists fail to make these days is that old time-tested motto: Always Be Prepared.
It’s a mantra still being taught in Journalism 101.
The best journalists of every era have made it the building block of their careers.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press).