My favorite interview subject of all time

Earlier this week I posted an interview of author Ira Stoll that was written by blogger Ira Stoll. And I wrote that I should try that sometime.

“Sometime” turned out to be, well, today. Stoll’s arguing with himself prompted this, as well as the news that one of this state’s longest running right-wing political blogs, Badger Blogger, is hanging it up.

I think I am a good interviewer. (If I’m not after a quarter-century of interviewing people, I need to find another line of work.) On the instances where I was on the other side of the notebook or microphone (seven years in institutional public relations and four years on a plan commission), I have tried to be quotable, since I understand what the media wants. I’ve been accused of being a media “ho” (because the people who called me that apparently thought “whore” was an impolite term), particularly on days where I made appearances in more than one medium on the same day.

Those who have been interviewed by me may or may not have noticed that my interviews tend to wander. I go into an interview with a few questions I need to have answered, but for the most part my interviews are conversations with the subject of the interview, conversations that go wherever the answers go. When I write, I write in order of the answers, but thanks to word processing software, if the best quote or fact to open or close the story is in the middle of the interview, it’s easy to put it in the right place while writing — certainly easier than the old days of using typewriters.

I’m too lazy to search for it here, but at some point I’ve probably used the term “the five Ws and one H” — Who, What, Where, When, Why and How on this blog. (I’ve used the term so often my kids know what it means.) The two things I want to find out when I’m interviewing someone who does something are the Why and the How — why do you what you do, and how do you do it, or, in a related sense, what’s it like to … whatever.

This may read like Playboy Magazine’s The Playboy Interview (for those who read Playboy for content besides the photos). There is no particular reason to do this other than the fact that the domain name is two years old this month. (I don’t believe it’s National Multiple Personality Day, but we can’t be sure about that.)

Steve (Q): You were called one of the top 10 conservative bloggers in the state of Wisconsin.

Steve (A): That is quite an honor. I felt really, really honored when I read that.

Q: Let’s see how you’re described: … “a rock ’n roll and classic cars aficionado … strong on business matters … Like the Beach Boys, he gets around … does “Presty the DJ” on his music faves from back in the day … blog sometimes so clogged with music videos the pages take forever to load. He’s so good he is featured at In Business/Wisconsin and, also like yours truly, appears on Joy Cardin’s WI Public Radio show, Week in Review.”

A: Actually, since then I don’t think InBusiness picks up my blog anymore, but that’s their call. What’s funny about that list is he compares certain bloggers to national names — Christian Schneider to George Will, Kevin Binversie to Paul Ryan, James Wigderson to William F. Buckley Jr., Brian Fraley to Andrew Breitbart, Brian Sikma to Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center … but not me. So apparently I’m comparable to no one else, which could be good or bad, I suppose.

Q: Are you actually a media “ho”?

A: Probably. What amazes me is that people recognize me. I used to do the last part of a show called “WeekEnd” on Wisconsin Public Television. And people recognized me from that show. When I did “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes,” people recognized me from that. I’ve been on Joy Cardin’s Week in Review segment for several years, and people now recognize me from that. I interviewed someone in Scott Walker’s Cabinet, and he knew my blog.

Q: Those are all either visual or sound mediums.

A: True, but sometimes you do your work and you feel like no one notices. When people do notice, it kind of makes you think: people read my stuff? And it’s a little awkward when people call you by name, and you’re standing there trying to remember who they are.

Q: You’ve appeared on public radio and public TV with people who don’t agree with you politically.

A: Well, when you’re invited, it would be rude to turn down the invitation. It’s funny that public TV and public radio have this reputation of being highbrow and more civil, given that I’ve been on two of the most fractious hours in the history of Wisconsin public broadcasting. There was one hour where the other guy, who was in the studio in Madison while I was on the phone, kept hitting the table while we were talking. We may have come to blows had we been in the studio together. I finally met him earlier this year, and we had a good laugh about it. This other guy I was on with … the most civil thing I can say about him is that he better hope he never meets me in person. I do think commentators on the right side of the political aisle don’t advance the conservative cause, whatever that is, by not debating those on other sides. Arguments don’t improve by going unchallenged.

Q: How did your blog get started?

A: Well, I’ve written opinions ever since I started in journalism. I’ve probably had opinions since … let’s see, I’m 48, so … that long. I got laid off from the business magazine I was the editor and publisher of, Marketplace Magazine, when the company closed it, and I had some people tell me I needed to keep writing, and that seemed like good advice. I had an opinion column and then daily blog at Marketplace — it was called “Marketplace of Ideas,” get it? — and I guess this blog is an extension of that, the discipline of daily writing.

Q: How would you describe

A: Well, it’s my thoughts on what’s going on, including, but not limited to, politics. They are only my thoughts or the thoughts of others I mostly agree with. It represents no one else’s views but mine.

Q: You might be the only blogger in the state who writes about state business climate comparisons.

A: Well, they’re important because somehow the state Legislature has to get it through their thick skulls that this state needs to be a better place to do business. It’s basically been bottom quarter among the states as long as comparisons have been done, which is about three decades. They’re all from different organizations, and they measure different things differently, but they all include taxes, and the state fares poorly because our taxes, including business taxes, are too  high. We also have too many government employees and too many regulations, and our schools are not as good as we’ve been led to think they are.

Q: Is the business climate better with Scott Walker as governor?

A: Maybe, but it’s still not good enough. People hate to pay property taxes, but income taxes affect businesses much more, and they’re still way too high. The Department of Natural Resources is still a fundamentally anti-business agency. Maybe it’ll never get really better because I think we have a cultural antipathy toward making money in this state, and we’ve been about big government pretty much since our founding. We are below average in wealth and growth in income, and we are below average in business formation, and those things are tied together.

Q: Do you write about business issues just because of your business media experience?

A: At first, but it’s bigger than that. If you think about it, businesses stay in existence only as long as they serve their customers. You don’t just show up, put in your eight hours and leave. And I think government pays entirely too little attention to what affects business. It’s as if, depending on where you are and what party you’re talking about, politicians and bureaucrats spend their days thinking about what they can do to business, instead of making it easier to start a business and be in business. A lot of people are good at making things, but to succeed at business you have to make sure all the bills get paid, your employees get paid, the government forms get filled out, and all that.

Q: Where do you think fits in the blogosphere?

A: Hmmm … I like to think that I argue based on ideas and not personalities, and based on ideas and not party. There’s a phrase that’s stuck with me over the years that came from, of all places, the Al Davis-era Oakland Raiders when they were an NFL power — “We never say ‘never,’ we never say ‘always’; we’d rather be right at that particular point in time than to be consistent.” But I think how you think about things as an opinionmonger needs to be grounded in some kind of guiding principles. I appropriated the term “conservatarian” to describe my political beliefs. I don’t belong to a political party, and I’ve criticized Republicans when I think they deserve criticism, even though I’ve certainly voted for many more Republicans than Democrats over the years. I also like to think I make arguments based on facts and logic. There may be something that makes me angry, but to write a good opinion piece requires a good deal more than just “I hate this” or whatever.

Q: Do you always do that?

A: Do what?

Q: Speak in blog links.

A: Only when I’m being interviewed by a blog about my blog.

Q: Why don’t you belong to a political party?

A: Because it would interfere with my ability to independently judge a politician or candidate or a political idea based on the merits, not based on the attached labels. As a journalist you have to be seen as independent. Also, I’m too cheap to contribute to politicians. I can count on one or two hands the number of political candidates I’ve given money to over the years. And while I get along with certain politicians, and I even like a few, I don’t like politicians as a class. I don’t think it’s proper for anyone to go into politics as a profession. The Founding Fathers never intended, say, Fred Risser to be in the state Senate since before my second birthday.

Q: So you support term limits?

A: Actually, I don’t. Term limits are really about getting politicians you don’t like out of office. Supporters of term limits tend to forget that if you get Nancy Pelosi out of office, you’re extremely likely to replace a D with another D. In legislative races and in House of Representative races, the political parties are pretty cemented in their seats.

Q: So how do you fix that?

A: That depends on whether you think that’s a problem. In this state, Democrats are in the big cities, and Republicans are in the suburbs and most rural areas. Many of the state’s newspapers are on this big crusade to end partisan redistricting. They’ve treated it like it’s a Republican evil when Democrats would have done the exact same thing had they won control of the Legislature in 2010. Democrats complain about Republican redistricting — well, Democrats controlled the Legislature in 2009 and 2010, and they didn’t change the redistricting process because they thought they were going to win in 2010 and control the redistricting process in 2011. Elections have consequences. I would probably favor nonpartisan, 100 percent neutral redistricting, but number one, that’s impossible, and number two, that’s not even 50th on the list of problems this state has. I think a way to deal with the whole term-limits issue, and maybe the gerrymandering issue too, is to reduce politician pay to zero, at every level. No one will go into politics as a career if they make absolutely no money at it. The other way is to limit the ability of politicians to do things, period. Limits on spending and taxes would do that.

Q: Here’s a nice, safe, uncontroversial question for you: Are reporters biased?

A: Well, humans are biased. I do think there’s a natural bias for a reporter toward the people they interact with on a regular basis. If you’re a government reporter, I think it’s probably hard to not give the people you cover or interview regularly more credibility than whoever their opposition is. That’s probably one reason so many incumbents get reelected — they get all the attention from the media, much more than their challengers do.

Q: Are reporters liberals?

A: Most I’ve met could be described that way, I think. In a way that’s not a surprise. There are more people in government and certainly education who are probably liberals than conservatives. People who are politically conservative tend to go into different lines of work. I think. Jake Tapper of ABC recently said that there are a lot of reporters who have never worked a manual-labor job and never shot a gun. There are a lot too, I suspect, that don’t go to church. Religion is something the mainstream media is terrible at covering.

Q: Is the news media biased?

A: Well, as I said, humans are biased. The news media is a business, and a business’ bias is to make money. In fact, a business’ first responsibility is to make money for its owners. So if most of your readers are liberals, it stands to reason that you tailor your product to your audience. There’s also a number of things where politics really has no role — sports scores, the weather, police reports — although how they’re interpreted can be subject to bias. And that last fact is how what Hillary Clinton called the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy came to be. Some readers grew tired of seeing news through a reporter’s political lens. Other readers wanted to see their own beliefs affirmed instead of trashed.

Q: So why are you not a liberal?

A: I am a liberal. I’m a classical liberal. I believe in individual rights, both in economics and personally, and neither party really believes totally in individual rights. My parents are pretty conservative — my dad is more than my mom — but living in the People’s Republic of Madison and being on the UW campus for five years made me more conservative, not less, because of the stupid stuff I saw every day.

Q: What are your most popular blog posts?

A: It’s interesting …

Q: I’ll be the judge of that.

A: What is interesting, if you’ll let me finish, is something I learned many years ago — that what you as a journalist think is important is not necessarily what the readers think is important, and vice versa. My most read blogs are about cars — six of my 10 most read blogs are about cars. Misfit cars, like Chevy El Caminos; land yachts, Cadillacs, Chevrolets, station wagons, and a piece I wrote about car instrument panels and starter motors.

Q: Someone actually read that?

A: More than 1,800 people have read that. I’ve written a lot about the car I want but don’t have, a Corvette.

Q: Why the Corvette?

A: Because I want one. Cars in general represent transportation freedom — you go where you want to go when you want to go, subject to only the traffic laws and how much gas you have. When I was six years old, a neighbor of ours had a 1970 Corvette. Once I got over being afraid of it — it looked sinister sitting in the garage — I wanted one. And I’ve gotten to drive a couple, and they were cool driving experiences, even though they were sort of uncomfortable driving experiences.

Q: Why is that?

A: Corvettes aren’t really built for tall people. The first Corvette I ever drove was a 1969 coupe with a 435-horsepower V-8. It was also the first manual-transmission car I ever drove, and it had a transmission known as the “rock crusher.” Plus it had manual steering and brakes. Driving a manual-steering car was quite a workout.

Q: Since you write more about politics than anything else, what are your most popular political blogs?

A: I’ve written a couple about the evils of public employee unions, particularly teacher unions. Probably also the one where I predicted a politician would be assassinated before the 2012 election. I still think that’s going to happen sometime in the next few years. That’s where our politics have devolved to.

Q: Why is that?

A: Well, part of it is politicians’ fault in the sense that both Republicans and Democrats are happy to assume control over our lives by passing laws in whatever area that party happens to be interested in.

Q: What’s your least-read blog of all time?

A: Probably this one.

Q: I’ll need to get those blog addresses, by the way.

A: They’re all on

Q: What else do you write about other than politics?

A: I chronicled my high school’s state boys basketball championship my junior year. I’ve written a lot about the UW Marching Band. I’ve written a fair amount about my favorite rock group, Chicago. I write about music and movies and TV.

Q: It sounds as if the UW Band was a formative experience in your life.

A: It was. Band was, both high school and at UW. I think I got out of band what athletes get out of a good sports program — teamwork and having your own role on a team, the team’s being more important than any one individual, the importance of doing good work whether or not you get credit for it. I’m interested in sports because sports also teaches life lessons, like overcoming adversity and coming back from failure, but also coming back from success. When anyone suggests that band isn’t an academic subject, I tend to get very angry.

Q: Why do you do the “Presty the DJ” blogs?

A: At one time I was interested in becoming a radio DJ.

Q: You’re not now?

A: I know more now about what radio as a line of work is like. It makes the print media look normal. The Presty the DJ blogs also allow me to indulge my interest in rock music, particularly the too-brief brass rock era.

Q: Why is Chicago your favorite rock group? Most people know them from a bunch of sappy ballads.

A: They were the first group, or group 1A or 1B — Blood Sweat & Tears came along at the same time — to make the horns a main part of the group, instead of just accompaniment. And if you’ve spent years playing trumpet in school bands, well, listen to their first few albums, and they make playing the trumpet cool. That would be my Walter Mitty moment — to play with Chicago — were it not for the fact that I’ve never been better than a barely average trumpet player.

Q: What else do you write about?

A: One of my most popular blogs is about facial hair. I have a strange interest in athletic uniforms.

Q: You seem to have a lot of strange interests.

A: Is your interviewing style to insult the person you’re interviewing?

Q: Is your being-interviewed style to answer the questions you want to answer instead of the questions you’re asked?

A: I’ve been accused of that.

Q: What other strange things do you write about?

A: I also write some about Madison beyond politics, more in history — Madison is my home town.

Q: You seem to have a love–hate relationship with your home town.

A: Well, I don’t think the phrase “love–hate” is accurate. You can’t love a thing, so you can’t hate a thing — at least you shouldn’t love things. I think that Madison was a very good place to grow up in the ’70s and ’80s, and I don’t think it is today.

Q: Why is that?

A: I think that as Madison has grown, it’s gotten the negative trappings of large cities — higher crime and much more violent crime, and it’s more expensive to do things there. And at the same time I think Madison has also retained what I think are the negatives the city’s had in my lifetime. Basically, institutional Madison seems to think it’s the center of the universe, and every goofy thing that comes out of there is worthy of a Nobel Prize. Can I say that, so to speak, Madison thinks its shit doesn’t stink?

Q: No, you can’t. This is a family blog.

A: Oh. And the other thing about Madison is that winter sucks.

Q: Winter sucks? Haven’t you lived in Wisconsin your entire life?

A: Yes, I have.

Q: So if winter sucks, why do you still live in Wisconsin?

A: Ha. Well … nearly all of my family lives here. And the summers and some of the fall is nice. And if we moved, our chances of seeing the Packers play would probably diminish greatly.

Q: Were you serious when you wrote that Madison and Milwaukee should be ejected from Wisconsin?

A: Well, obviously that’s not going to happen. The point I was making was most of Wisconsin is not what I used to call the Madison–Milwaukee Axis of Evil. It took some time living outside Madison for me to realize that, and now I have no interest in ever returning.

Q: You called Madison and Milwaukee evil?

A: Yeah. That was back at Marketplace. We were a Northeast Wisconsin business magazine, and that seemed to be a good metaphor for Gov. James Doyle and the Democrats when they controlled the Legislature in the late 2000s — tax increases, big bureaucracy, and doing whatever the public employee unions want to do, all of which is anti-business. And we’re still recovering from that in this state. This state’s motto has been “Pedicabo qui soluit tributum” …

Q: What’s that mean?

A: I guess you’d say “Screw the Taxpayer.” That’s been this state’s motto for a long, long time.

Q: I bet that was real popular in Madison. You know, people all over the world can read blogs.

A: Yes. There was a Madison radio talk show host who took what I wrote and … I wouldn’t say he took it out of context, but he acted as if I was serious about punting Madison and Milwaukee out of Wisconsin. That was funny, because that took up an entire hour of his show. There was one caller who suggested I was self-hating. I have no idea what that was supposed to mean. And then he had me on his show to debate the whole thing, which was an amusing experience.

Q: Do you hate public employees?

A: Of course not. My mother worked for a technical college, and she was in the union. My kids go to public schools. I went to a public school, and so did my wife. Police and firefighters are in one of the few lines of work where it’s conceivable their next day of work could be their last day on Earth. I do think public employee unions should not exist, because, among other things, unions protect employees who deserve to be fired, either because they engage in misconduct or they’re just bad at what they’re supposed to be doing. I saw what teacher unions do when I was a student in Madison, and it wasn’t good. Unions in the private sector, that’s between a company and its employees; if you like or dislike unions, you can choose to be a customer of a specific business, or not. We taxpayers don’t get to choose. And in this state, it’s a fact that many — in some places, even most — government employees make more money and have better benefits than the people whose taxes pay for their salaries and benefits.

Q: And yet government employees were claiming they weren’t getting paid as well as people in the private sector.

A: In bigger areas they’re not. In more rural areas they are. I see bumper stickers that say that weekends are brought to you by unions. That’s a bunch of bull. If you own a business, you work nights, you work weekends, you work holidays, and your employees get more vacation than you do. I work nights. I work every weekend. I shoot photos for the newspaper on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Q: So are teachers overpaid?

A: No, they are not overpaid. There are people who think teachers just work nine months a year. If you figure out the number of hours someone working 40 hours a week over a year with no time off works, that’s 2,080 hours. I’m sure teachers work that many hours over a year, and a lot of them work more than that over a year. But — and here’s what the public-sector unions refuse to acknowledge — so do a lot of the people whose taxes pay their salaries.

Q: A reader of your blog might conclude that you hate politicians generally and liberals specifically.

A: I’m not sure “hate” is the right word. Too many people use the terms “love” and “hate” in the wrong way. … I think politicians at all levels in both parties as well as nonpartisan have lost sight of what they’re supposed to be doing, and that is providing government services, not regulating our lives. Politicians get intoxicated with their own power, and that happens all the way up and down the government ladder.

Q: Well, which politicians do you like?

A: If I like a politician, it’s personally, and only personally. I support politicians to the extent they do what I think they should do, and that’s it.

Q: You went to La Follette High School in Madison. There’s some irony in that given your political worldview.

A: I am from the ’80s, and that is kind of the Ironic Decade. (Also the Cynical Decade and the Sarcastic Decade.) Politics in this state has been driven by the Progressive Era, which claimed that man could be improved through government. Man cannot be “improved,” and if man could be improved, that’s not possible from a flawed human institution.

Q: You’re not a fan of Barack Obama.

A: Understatement of the year.

Q: Why do you not like Obama?

A: Well, he was fundamentally unqualified to be president from the start. Arguably no one from Congress is qualified to be president. The presidency is an executive position, and Obama had nothing in his professional background that represented meaningful executive experience. He also completely misread — possibly deliberately — his mandate from the 2008 election, which was to make things better, not merely different. Voters want improvement, not change. In a lot of ways he represents everything wrong with what we call “liberals” today — identity politics; taking from people who have worked damn hard for what they have and giving it to those who haven’t; envy of the “rich,” which I define as anyone with more money than you. To the Obamas, if you’re a white man and you’re not a Democrat, you’re pond scum.

Q: You really believe that?

A: Oh, yes. Look at what the Obama administration has done to business for the past four years. We are worse off in every meaningful way since Obama took office in 2009. There is an unemployment number called U6 — unemployed and underemployed, people who want to work full-time but are only working part-time, and those who have given up looking for a job. And there is no presidential administration in history that has had a worse U6 number than the Obama administration. The irony is that the people who voted for him — non-whites are worse off, and young people are worse off. Their unemployment numbers are through the roof. Of course, if you criticize Obama for his policies, you’re a racist. And I guess that means that when you criticize Hillary Clinton, you’re sexist too.

Q: Why is politics so nasty?

A: Well … I get less upset about the nastiness of politics than some people. I think we live in a society that is more coarse every day. Freedom of expression is a paramount right of ours, but a lot of people do not listen to any opinion that is different from theirs. They don’t even respect the right of someone to have a different opinion. Politics specifically has become a zero-sum game — one side wins, so the other side loses. And politicians have gotten too powerful because government has gotten too powerful. If you don’t like the tone of politics, if you don’t like money in politics, if you don’t like campaign ads, take away power from government.

Q: Do you talk about politics all the time?

A: No. I know people who literally cannot shut up about politics, even when the people they’re talking to don’t want to hear it. I pride myself on the ability to not do that. There are some people I know who have no idea what my political beliefs are, because I’ve decided to not share those with them.

Q: Do you believe everything you write?

A: Well, yes, at the time I write it. I’ve changed my mind on some things. I used to think Mike McCarthy wasn’t a very good coach, and Aaron Rodgers would never be able to replace Brett Favre. Wrong on both counts. I’m not one of those writers who writes things for the sole purpose of inflaming readers. There was a sportswriter for The Post~Crescent in Appleton who would write stories that claimed the Packers basically sucked and would never get to the Super Bowl, while the Packers were in the process of going to back-to-back Super Bowls. That’s just asinine, and I would never insult my readers by doing something like that.

Q: So are you right all the time?

A: I say that I’m right, and if you agree with me you’re right too. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion … which makes me think of one of my favorite journalism memoirs, David Brinkley’s Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion. The thing is if you don’t have the courage of your own convictions to state and defend your convictions, why bother to have them? I think that’s one of the major problems of newspaper opinion pages, and one reason why I like the Wall Street Journal editorial page — they have a philosophy, and every one of their editorials, and most of their columns, is based on that philosophy. Newspapers need to have opinion pages, but the ad hoc editorial-by-committee approach results in a whole lot of nothing, stuff like “Business development: We’re for it” and “Make sure you vote tomorrow.” I used to write in Marketplace of Ideas that an uninformed vote is worse than not voting, and it is.

Q: And who has the editorial-by-committee approach?

A: Most of this state’s daily newspapers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal do, and as a result their opinions are all over the place. Better to have a group of opinions with their writers’ names on them instead of writing an opinion that supposedly represents The Newspaper that gets contradicted a few days later.

Q: How did you get started in journalism?

A: Read the blog.

Q: What’s the biggest story you’ve ever covered?

A: Read the blog.

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: That’s a good question.

Q: Thanks. Stop stalling and answer it.

A: Who do you think you are, Mike Wallace?

Q: My job is to ask questions. Your job is to answer them.

A: You know, I can end this interview at any time.

Q: You’re right. But how is cutting off the media going to look on your own blog?

A: Well, there is that. … I didn’t read this until sometime in the last year; it came from one of those advice-to-graduates opinions. You hear advice like “do what you love, and you’ll love your work,” or something like that. I think that’s bad advice. The thing is that every job has unpleasant aspects to it — things you have to do, but they’re drudgery. The better advice is to do what you’re good at. I think I started as a pretty good writer, and I was told when I was in college I was a good interviewer, but journalism is one of those lines of work that you get better at by doing it. My first media ambitions were in TV, but once I started actually working in journalism, I found that I could do the job, and I think do it well.

Q: What are your strengths as a journalist?

A: I’m not very creative, but I think I’m good at improving things. The two newspapers for which I’ve been the editor both won Most Improved Newspaper awards. I think I write good headlines and good lead paragraphs. I think I quote people accurately given that I still write notes instead of using recorders. And I meet deadlines. That’s what broadcast is good for — if you’re even 10 seconds late, you’re late. From sports, I think I’m good at getting the broadcast on through whatever technological hurdles exist, even if that means calling a game into a telephone, which I’ve done before.

Q: And your weaknesses?

A: My work space, according to everyone I have ever worked with. I procrastinate, but nearly every journalist does that. There are stories I don’t like doing that I probably do the minimum necessary to get the work done. My parents would probably tell you that was my attitude toward school too. My play-by-play is probably not descriptive enough; I called TV for so many years that I probably need to be more descriptive since radio listeners can’t see what I see.

Q: What do you think is the key to writing a good opinion piece?

A: I think it’s marshaling facts and logic — argument — for whatever you’re espousing. I think it’s also about counter-counterargument — being able to anticipate and argue against whatever the opposite side is.

Q: Why do you like announcing sports?

A: Well, it’s certainly not based on my past athletic prowess.

Q: Why is that?

A: Why is what?

Q: I ask the questions here. (That’s why this line starts with “Q.”) Why do you suck at sports?

A: I don’t know for sure. My father was a state champion relay runner, and my brother was a four-year varsity swimmer in high school. All three of our kids are involved in sports. But I was always the last, or next to last, kid to be picked for teams in gym class. I think I have the worst hand–eye coordination of someone who doesn’t have a neuromuscular disease. I have 20/400 vision. I think I’ve always had a fear of getting hit in the face. I have arms like sticks. I’ve hit my head on some kind of overhanging thing more times than I can count. I actually imitated that “agony of defeat” thing when I went cross country skiing — I had this epic wipeout, and at the end of it I started laughing because I literally thought I should have been dead.

Q: Oh. Brain damage?

A: Entirely possible. I chose to go into journalism, after all.

Q: But how many bones have you broken?

A: Well, none. I still have all my ligaments and all my teeth, too. I played boys volleyball in high school for two years, which consisted of (1) practicing and (2) watching the matches from the bench. Other than basketball, our high school sports weren’t necessarily very good, particularly football — in four years in high school, our football team won three, one, one and four games. I guess part of it too is that I didn’t understand until it was too late that to do something well, you have to work at it. Whoever told me that, it apparently didn’t sink in. You have to practice and you have to work at it even when it’s not fun to work at it. It wasn’t until a couple years into the UW Band that I actually looked forward to going to practice.

Q: Do you always start answers with “well”?

A: Well … no.

Q: You could have fooled me. You were saying …?

A: About …?

Q: Announcing sports.

A: Oh, yeah. … read the blog. I think it was Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black who said that he always read the sports page first because the sports page chronicles man’s successes, but the front page chronicles man’s failures. ABC’s “Wild World of Sports” was about “the human drama of athletic competition” — “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” — and there’s something fun about observing that, even if you can’t do that.

Q: How long do you intend on doing this?

A: Doing what? Saying “read the blog”?

Q: No, but now that you bring it up … but I meant your blog.

A: Oh. Probably until I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ll certainly never lack for things to write about.

Q: Is there anything you won’t write about?

A: Yes.

Q: What would that be?

A: I’m not telling you.

Q: What’s the most shocking thing people could know about you?

A: Who are you, James Lipton?

Q: No. Just play along.

A: It’s probably the fact that I’ve gotten to like some current country music. It’s funny because I used to be very loud about hating country. I still don’t like the my-wife-left-me/my-dog-died/my-truck-blew-up/I’m-gonna-go-get-drunk so-called classic country. But today’s contemporary country artists do what today’s pop music stars can’t do, and that’s write and sing a song that has a melody and has a theme beyond me-so-horny.

Q: Sometimes reading your blog makes you think you’d prefer the past to the present.

A: Well, technology is obviously much better today. I wouldn’t want to do without computers. Cars are much more capable today, but they’re lacking the style of cars of, say, the ’60s or even ’70s. Music was better then than now, I think, but we forget that the radio played some songs that probably should never have been recorded. We have more TV now, and so that may well have diluted the quality of what you see. And of course there’s reality TV, which isn’t.

Q: So what are your professional goals?

A: Well …

Q: There you go again.

A: Very clever of you. A lot of things I wanted to do 25 years ago I won’t be doing — announce a Super Bowl or World Series. I wanted to be my favorite sportscaster, Dick Enberg. I would have loved to have had the career of David Brinkley, because he was such a great writer and really witty. I’d like to write novels, but if a novel is supposed to go from A to Z in terms of plot, I get hung up around E or F. I’ve never had a job longer than seven years. My father worked for the same bank, though with different owners, for 40½ years. I had more employers than him after 3½ years. I got my Eagle Scout award in 1981, and one thing the Boy Scouts say is to leave a place in better condition than you found it in. And I’ve always tried to do that.

Q: Do you love your work?

A: No. You should never love your job, because your job doesn’t love you.

Q: But do you love your work?

A: No. But I think we are supposed to work. We are put on this earth to accomplish things, not to sit and watch the world go by and enjoy the breeze and the flowers.

Q: What advice would you give to new or would-be journalists?

A: Other than go into a different line of work?

Q: Journalism is a bad line of work?

A: Well, someone once said the pay is lousy, but the hours are long. The hours are also irregular. And that’s certainly the case for new journalists. I’ve said journalist pay would increase dramatically if college schools of journalism would all close for five years — supply and demand. I think the old dividing lines are going away, and we’re seeing that already — newspapers that do nothing but print, radio stations that only broadcast audio, TV stations that only do 60-second-long stories — they’re all starting to blur together thanks to the Internet. The traditional news cycle is disappearing fast; it’s not 24/7 only in the very smallest markets. Something similar to the blurring of media outlets is happening with media jobs — journalists really need to be able to perform job functions in different forms of media, not just sit there and write down what someone says. So a journalist really needs to embrace and get good at different forms of technology. But regardless of tech or delivery of information, there is no substitute for doing a good job. There’s also no substitute for actually doing the work, which is not glamorous and not fun, but it’s required.

Q: What’s doing a good job?

A: Being accurate. Being as complete as possible as quickly as possible. Being curious. Not taking what you’re told at face value, even when it comes from authority.  Being fair, which is more important than appearing unbiased. Having a thick skin helps.

Q: Why?

A: Because journalists don’t get a lot of feedback, but when they do, it’s often more negative than positive. You don’t always hear from people when you’ve done a good job. You do hear from people when you screw up something. Twice I had stories where I got the first name of the person I interviewed wrong.

Q: Would you want your kids to go into journalism?

A: Well, I’ve already gotten them to help me during games, and two of them shoot photos for me from time to time. If that’s what they want to do, and God help them if it is, I would want them to go into it fully knowing what it requires — long and irregular hours and so on.

Q: I find it interesting that you’ve gotten through an entire interview without an ’80s song.

A: You mean like …

Q: Yeah, like that. (No wonder Blaska says your pages take so long to load.)

A: I was waiting for the proper moment.

Q: No Chicago in that list?

A: They didn’t do anything great in the ’80s, though they did do a few pretty good songs:

Q: Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t ask?

A: Isn’t this enough?

Q: I should hope so. You sure do you like to talk.

A: There’s some irony in that — a reporter who likes to talk. But then again, I’m from the ’80s, so irony is my thing.

Q: Don’t you think this whole thing is an exercise in self-indulgence?

A: Don’t ask me. This was your idea.

Q: So why did you agree to do this?

A: Beats the hell out of me. By the way, can I read this before it’s posted?

Q: No.


3 thoughts on “My favorite interview subject of all time

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