Monday, May 10, 2004

Buttering up for an interview

The mention of Dave Eggers in the last post sent me back. I reread this piece, alluded to in here. There's this lesson on single-word quotes:
For example, if I was doing a Q&A with Dr. Heimlich (inventor of the manuever), it might look like this:
Q: Which of your manuevers do you like best?
A: I love that which is called the Heimlich manuever, because it seems to have saved many lives, and saving lives is good.
I have asked a question, and given the subject a chance to answer. I haven't bent his words or put any sort of spin on them. Now, if I'm a journalist with guile, working outside of the Q&A format, I could take that quote and make it look like this:
Dr. Heimlich claims that he "loves" his best-known maneuver, because it's "saved many lives" and he insists that saving lives is "good."
What's happened here is that I've used the words Heimlich provided, but by taking quote fragments -- words out of context, between quotation marks that cast doubt on the words' sincerity -- I've made something kind of snide and sinister out of something simple and straightforward. Note that by putting the word "love" between quotation marks, I've made Dr. Heimlich's sincere statement about his work seem false.
But even more intersting is Eggers' exchange with New York Times writer David Kirkpatrick.

A synopsis: Eggers doesn't want to be interviewed about the forthcoming paperback of his book "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." After much persuasion, he relents and is promised a full review before publication. That doesn't happen, story has errors when it is published, and Eggers gets pissy. He reprints all correspondence with Kirkpatrick.

Reading about that interview get is fascinating, and I just spent more than an hour going over it again. Kirkpatrick's e-mails include this gem: "please, please, please call 212 556 XXXX, 917 XXX-XXXX." When begging doesn't work, he butters Eggers up: "Hello! I have to tell you, I belatedly read your book over the weekend, and I really was blown away---- I have never read anything even remotely like it." And then he tells of mutual friends. How this was the publishers idea and he's just going along with it. Self-deprecation: "I'm also not the fastest thinker/writer in the world, so it would be great if that could happen soon."

No one can say Eggers comes out of the exchange smelling like roses, though. He's certainly prissy and nit-picking (and not being able to review the article is largely his fault).

In any case, a welcome window into journalism from the interviewee's perspective.


At 12:03 PM, May 10, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

Testing out the new comments

At 9:55 PM, May 10, 2004, Blogger Mike said...

He certainly seems like a nice chap when he joins the dinner guests on IFC's "Dinner for Five." And a damn good writer.

At 10:25 PM, May 10, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

I enjoyed "Heartbreaking Work" very much. It's one of those books you just devour. But I didn't read the last one, and I don't subscribe to McSwys, although I read it online quite a bit.

I have yet to see the show, but I should check it out.


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