FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Studs and Me

by DAVE LINDORFF

I only met the master interviewer Studs Terkel, who died Friday at 96, once but that occasion remains a high point of my 35 years as a journalist.

And the funny part is, although I was a reporter, I didn’t meet him in that role, but rather as interviewee.

It was 1992, and I was in the middle of a two-week author’s tour Bantam Books had set up for my first book, “Marketplace Medicine,” an investigative book about the for-profit hospital corporations that were buying up community hospitals all over the country and turning them from care-giving institutions into “profit centers.”

Over the course of the prior week, I had been interviewed by hosts of TV programs and radio programs in the New York and Washington media markets. Most of the program hosts had obviously not read more than the liner notes on the dust jacket before having me on. In Chicago, I’d even gone to one radio station where the host met me outside the studio and said, without a hint of embarrassment, “Can you give me a couple of questions to ask you? I don’t like to read the books of the authors I have on because I like to ask the kinds of questions my listeners would ask.”

Studs was something else entirely. When the car service driver dropped me off at the building where WFMT, the station that broadcast the long-running interview program that had made Terkel into a Chicago landmark, was located, I found him waiting for me in the lobby, inside the building’s revolving door. A short, energetic man of 80, with a shock of white, slightly disheveled hair, Studs stepped forward to greet me, shaking my hand vigorously and steering me towards the elevator. “Dave, great to see you, great to see you!” he growled in his raspy voice. I noticed he was carrying my book in his other hand.

“This is a terrific book!” he said enthusiastically as we walked into the elevator. “A great book!” He began flipping intently through the pages, which I noticed were black with markings done in a thick marker pen. Passages were circled, there were exclamation marks and asterisks in the margins, and comments scrawled in a big sloppy hand. “There’s just one thing I want to ask you.”

He flipped through more pages, all black with his marker handiwork, and came to the page he wanted. I can’t remember the question he asked, but I remember he wanted a clarification of a comment I had made about some incident involving the actions of one of the hospital chains I had been writing about.

I confess, I was just in awe at the prospect of being interviewed by this guy.

He led me into a studio room, offered me something to drink—coffee I think—and motioned me to a chair at a large table. He sat down too, and continued the conversation. I gradually relaxed and was looking forward to the interview, when Studs suddenly said, “Well, that was great. Now all we need is a wrap. Could you just read this paragraph from the book?”

I was dumbstruck. “You mean we already did the interview?” I asked him, incredulous.

“Yeah,” he said, laughing. He pointed up at the microphones hanging from the ceiling, unnoticed by me. “Didn’t you see the engineer over there?” he asked, pointing to a glass window, behind which an engineer sat, laughing silently.

No, I hadn’t. I had thought we were just shooting the breeze, waiting for the interview to begin. At most of the studios I had been at, engineers had attached mikes to my shirt, done sound checks and generally fussed around for a while before starting to record or broadcast a live program.

How long had we talked, I wondered? It had seemed like only a few minutes to me, but it turns out we’d done the whole program.

I read the passage from the book that Studs had requested, and then he leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Ah, that’s what I call a back porch interview,” he said.

I was still in shock. His interview had been so smooth, so casual, his interest in and knowledge of the material in the book so thorough, and his questions so easy and on target, that I had never realized that it was happening. I had thought we were just chatting.

The amazing thing is that we were just chatting. But when I took the tape of the program home and played it, I was astonished at how incisive and articulate I sounded. The truth is, I had never sounded so good, before and probably ever since!

What was it that Studs had done in that interview? I’ve listened to that tape many times trying to figure it out. He was completely conversational. He never cut me off, allowing me to answer questions fully, and if he wanted more, he knew exactly what he wanted and was able to gently ask a leading question that sent me in the right direction without my ever feeling steered, pressured or manipulated into answering. Most important, he was genuinely interested in what I had to say. It really was like he said, that we were two guys relaxing on the back porch conversing.

And that, I believe, not just his incalculable contribution to the understanding of America, is what was Studs Terkel’s greatness as a journalist. He was not interviewing a subject. He was conversing with a friend.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

February 22, 2018
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail