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03/04/2005 Archived Entry: "Letterman vs. Rather"
Posted by Loren @ 12:28 AM PST

Interesting. When talk show hosts interview their guests, they are usually entirely in control of the dynamic. Some talk show hosts will belittle their guests (typically shock jocks who are a waste of airwaves), most won't, but regardless, they're the ones driving the direction of the conversation, making the audience laugh or feel sad, caoxing stories out of their guests or taking over the conversation for a joke. They are the ones that seem more at ease. More than once, I've seen a guest nervous, even movie stars and politicians. Maybe because they feel their promotion of their movie or themselves depends on how Letterman treats them.

Tonight was the first time I saw the opposite. Letterman had Dan Rather on, and Letterman is actually stuttering and having a hard time choosing his words. It's not that Rather is particularly forceful, but I get the clear sense that Letterman has so much respect for Rather that he's the one that feels nervous. It's little things -- not just the stuttering:

* Letterman isn't joking as much as usual. All the dialogue is very serious. Even if one didn't understand English, you could still sense that this dialogue is different than most interviews.

* Letterman's language is different, more sophisticated.

* Rather is garnering the biggest laughs with sparing, short, dry jokes.

* Letterman's questions are less pointed. They are more open-ended such that it allows Rather to guide the conversation however he wishes.

And Rather had some great things to say. In '68, he was covering the Democratic Convention. Control over the Convention was very tight because the Vietnam War had created tumultous times. Delegates were required to stay in their seats. One delegate got up from their seat in violation of the order and security moved in to forcefully take the delegate off the floor. As they were hauling the delegate out, Rather moved towards the action to report on the situation. Security did NOT want the press to investigate so they punched Rather and knocked him down.

Letterman asked if the same thing happened today, would the journalist have litigated. And Rather said he wasn't sure if press these days would even _investigate_ the incident, if they would move toward that action; that there's this fear today that if you don't play ball, your access to those in power will be cut off. It's not something we haven't heard before about the US press these days, but that sentiment typically comes from more fringe elements.

It consequently became a very different interview. I'm not sure it was fun for everyone but it was a great change and interesting to watch.

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