WB: If you could interview any living person, who would it be and what would you ask them?
MO: High-minded answer: I’d like to gain more theological understanding from lots of people. Low answer: I’d like to ask Bill Clinton if he knew of Newt Gingrich’s adultery during the 1990s and used that knowledge for political advantage.
WB: Switching seats, could you name some of your most memorable interviews in which you were the one in the hot seat? Did you prepare for these? Did you anticipate certain questions?
MO: I did a few hundred in 1995-1996 and again in 1999-2000, when I was involved in welfare reform and the quick rise and fall of compassionate conservatism. My preparation was visiting and guiding reporters to lots of Christian ministries so I could talk about street-level examples of what I had seen, not suite-level abstractions. Memorable ones: NBC’s Dateline because the reporter came with me to the Washington Gospel Mission and filmed there. Or a BBC interview on election night 2000 at the Austin outdoors party of Bush supporters: the interviewer was joyful because Bush had apparently lost, but in the middle of the interview the crowd gave a big cheer because the results were shifting.
I anticipated suspicious questions from CNN and 60 Minutes, and saw the difference a thoughtful Christian associate producer could make. CNN had one and the profile was positive. 60 Minutes did not and the segment was negative.
WB: If I’m going to be interviewed should I come prepared with a script? Should I know what I want to say regardless of which questions are asked? Or should I strictly answer the questions asked?
MO: Probably not a script but a focus. Yes, answer the questions, but try to take a gospel turn.
WB: What would you suggest someone do who is asked a question to which they don’t have a great answer?
MO: Say “I don’t have a great answer. Here’s how I try to think it through...”
WB: Is there a right way to reply to combative questions?
MO: Sensational facts, understated prose, in other words, with a firm position but a gentle tone that can turn away wrath.
WB: Is there a way to tell if, when being interviewed, you are answering with either too short or too long of answers? Is there a sweet spot?
MO: Texas saying about giving a speech: “If you don’t strike oil in 20 minutes, stop boring.” One minute – say, 100 words – is probably the maximum for an answer in an interview. Sweet spot might be 30 words, but it depends on the question and the context.