Time Crunch

You are granted five minutes with a man who has a one in three chance of becoming the next leader of the free world (that is what the President of the United States is still considered, right?)

 

Ready? Go.

 

How do you spend those five minutes? Do you try to cover a wide range of issues? That would leave time for soundbites and talking points.  Do you stick to one issue and try to drill down? 

 

A few reporters got those five-minute segments for one-on-one interviews during John McCain’s visit to South Florida this week. My long-time friend and colleague Michael P., our consummate Political Reporter, had personal commitments that day so the assignment fell to me. The interviews were scheduled after McCain’s visit with parents of children with serious medical issues – a fact-finding trip to learn how, for so many families, crucial medical insurance falls dangerously short or is just plain out of reach.

 

Such events, when the cameras are called in, are staged and scripted.  You know this because a copy of exactly what the candidate will say is handed to you before the candidate shows up to say it.  And he doesn’t divert from the script.  And the script sounds good, but doesn’t reveal much.

 

I was second in line for the one-on-one time, behind another long-time friend and colleague Michael W., one of the finest reporters in this market. As we changed out microphones, I asked him how it went.

 

“Fast,” he said. Coming from a smart, insightful guy, I took a “fast” to be a mix of interesting and frustrating.

 

I calculated that five minutes of Q&A, allowing for any kind of meaningful A’s, meant only five or six Q’s.

 

For the few moments photographers were changing out equipment, I chatted with the senator off-camera, maybe not off-guard, but certainly off script.

 

I acknowledged his first-hand experience with raising a child with medical issues. The McCain’s adopted a daughter with a cleft palate.

 

“It was different for us,” he said. “Money wasn’t an issue.” He said it quietly, reflectively, as if it were an admission. Here’s a guy with the resources to save a child, vying for a job with the resources to save millions.

 

And here is a guy who walked the walk of the parents he’d just met. If anyone was going to be sensitive to their plight, you would think he would be it. Yet when the five minute clock started ticking, McCain stuck to talking points, concepts that sounded sensible, but few details about how to achieve them.

 

A crisply efficient timekeeper tapped me on the shoulder when time was about up. I think I got in all the Q’s, got some interesting A’s. 

 

“So, does any reporter ever get any meaningful dialog in five-minutes?”  I asked.

 

“Not really,” he said with a smile.

 

I guess I like that candor.

 

The senator suggested I ride along on his campaign plane. I would love to — aboard Clinton’s and/or Obama’s, too. Campaign coverage takes place at great heights. And it takes longer than five minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response

  1. Never mind five minutes here nor there; you can now say you sat across from the man who will soon be this fine nation’s next President. Sticking to the exact script is the reason why—-little room for error. These fine political types weren’t born yesterday—–if you are the veteran reporter you say you are, you should know that by now….

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