Tavis Smiley: Week in Review, Part II

AKIE BERMISS: Preparation is king, Tavis Smiley.   Tuesday night’s episode was far more bearable than its predecessor.  Why?  Because Tavis seemed prepared for his guests.  And it was just in a nick of time, as well.  With Nicholas Kristof and Haleh Esfandiari.  I know Kristof from his work for the Times and I was worried — after the “dog” incidents of the previous night — that he would spend half of the interview asking Kristof about the relevancy of the sky to human rights issues.  I was pleasantly surprised by Tavis’ ability to ask fairly penetrating questions that we ON TOPIC and actually unveiled much of the substance and purpose behind the book.

There was one strange moment when Tavis seemed to grow a bit over-confident and tried to string together Kristof’s recent piece (that I haven’t read myself) apparently about America’s use of unmanned drones in Pakistan and the points Kristof was making throughout the interview about women and their ability (once bolstered by the means educationally and financially) motivate a populace and strengthen the next generation (their children).  It started out as a good question, but as it progressed it rapidly became clear that Tavis hadn’t really come up with a connection.  He wanted it so bad, however, that he just tried to tie it together.

It didn’t work, but Kristoff managed to find the relevant threads and come back with a nice answer.  Sometimes, with Tavis, its just a matter of sticking to the core of the story.  When he starts trying to improvise and bring in new elements — he gets lost and that when you know he’s unprepared.

His second interview with Haleh Esfandiari was actually: enjoyable.  And this time I think it was also to do with preparation.  It was clear from Tavis’ questions and comments that he was pretty familiar with Esfandiari’s story.  That he found it compelling.  And that he had, at least, glanced at the book.  It helps, too, that the crux of the interview was based on a personal story — Esfandiari’s being imprisoned by the Iranian government for eight months when she’d gone to visit her elderly mother.  And much of the interview is just the recounting of that horrifying tale.  But, strangely, Esfandiari was extremely upbeat and easy with her laughter.  Which is a perfect way to be with Tavis — it puts the interview over. The material was great, the guest was wonderful and a wonder, and Tavis was competent and congenial.

There was a moment when I feared he’d try for another longshot gambit with Iran and the nuclear issue, but Esfandiari brought him right back front and center.  Praised the Obama administration’s work and brought it back to her idea of what the deal with Iran is.

So Tavis, you get a pass today.  There was only one major stumble and, thanks to your guest, you recovered.  And there is something to be said for that, Tavis get some of the most interesting and intelligent people on his show.  You figure with guests so awesome, how is it possible to not just be fantastic.  Sometimes, he finds a way. Tonight, however, both guests were excellent interviewees and everything moved along nicely.  I barely grimaced at all.

Maybe had my eyebrows furrowed for most of it though — but that’s just fearful anticipation (of what could so easily go wrong).

I must disagree with Akie’s descriptions here. Tavis seemed out of his league on both interviews, and the second was nearly a parody.

Immediately, Smiley showed he didn’t read Kristof’s book, then creates a false construct (separating oppression and opportunity) that he proceeds to ignore. Five questions in, he’s still on the cover.

Then he takes pains to mention he was on Meet the Press, uses this to discuss at some length some facts he knows, and asks about oppression/opportunity again, in the same way.

Kristof weaves why he wrote the book into a later question, since Smiley hasn’t asked this himself.

Finally, he introduces a decent question about a particular experience that touched Kristof by saying, “It’s my experience in writing books…” Oh Tavis, why must everything be about you?

The second one was worse.

He starts generically about Iran- just fine, but his construct- how can you not be bitter toward Iran, when they re-elected Ahmedinejad?- seems to side with Iranian propaganda.

But the specifics were fantastic- obviously, he hadn’t read the book AND wasn’t listening, since each follow-up referenced the question just asked.

How’d that happen? referenced her imprisonment, which she’d already described.

Give me some sense of what that was like came just after she’d described what it was like.

Why did it happen? Did it scare you? All things she’d described previously.

And despite twice mentioning she was completely cut off from the world, he finishes with, “Were you aware of what the reaction was worldwide?”

I defy you to see any difference between this interview and Ray Goulding’s interview of The Komodo Dragon Expert.

The interview ends with laughing- unreasonable imprisonment! Good times. Smiley seems to catch himself, and ends by saying it’s no laughing matter.

Dear lord.

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  1. Pingback: Tavis Smiley: Week in Review, Part III | The Perpetual Post

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