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Tricks of the Trade With Bill Press

We continue our Tricks of the Trade feature with lefty radio host Bill Press. Credentials: With a name like “Press,” are the details of his experience really important? Fine. Aside from being a longtime radio host, he has authored seven books including Bush Must Go: The Top 10 Reasons Why George Bush Doesn’t Deserve a Second Term and Train Wreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon). He started his broadcast TV career in LA and co-hosted CNN’s “Spin Room,” “Crossfire” and MSNBC’s “Buchanan and Press.” Growing up Catholic he was an altar boy and took vows. He graduated with a theology degree from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.”The Bill Press Show” airs on the liberal talk channel SiriusXM 127 from 6 – 7 a.m. ET.

1. Favorite Interview Technique: I like to loosen people up by starting with some off-the-wall question they’re not expecting. For example, I opened interview with Maureen Dowd by asking: “Are you nervous?” With [Rep.] James Clyburn [D-S.C.]: “Mr. Leader, how’s your golf game?”

2. Most Compelling Question I’ve Ever Asked: Without doubt. Asked Patti Reagan if she’d ever had sex on the rug in the Oval Office when her father was president. She said she really wanted to, but there were always too many Secret Service agents around. But she did admit she smoked pot in the White House.

3. Best Self-Editing Approach: Do your homework. Know what you want to get out of interview. Get it. And end it.

4. What to do When an Interview is Tanking: Happens all the time. Especially with people you’ve never interviewed before. You think they’re going to be a lively interview, and they bomb. Pure talking points. Only answer is: Just get out of it. Worst thing you can do is drag out a boring interview.

5. Approaching Lawmakers and other “Important People”: Don’t be nervous. Don’t be shy. They need you more than you need them. Tell them who you are. Ask for interview. Be flexible, but if they turn you down – it’s their loss, not yours.

6. Most Surprising Thing to Happen During an Interview…

Most Surprising: We all dream of making news with an interview, but that seldom happens. It happened big time with me in an interview with Congressman John Conyers [D-Mich.]. I asked him what I thought was a softball question about how he thought Obama was doing. To my total surprise, he hesitated a couple of beats and then blurted out: “Why would you ask me that question? You know what I think. I’ll be honest with you, I’m tired of defending Obama’s butt!” And proceeded to say why. Needless to say, I was pleased when news of our interview hit the front page of The Hill the next day. But I was even more pleased, two days later, when the front page of The Hill reported that Conyers had received a personal phone call from President Obama, telling him he was not happy with his comments on The Bill Press Show. Yes!

7. Advice From an Editor You’ve Never Forgotten: Actually, I’ve been lucky. I’ve had very few editors, and few unhappy encounters with editors. But the one bit of advice I’ve never forgotten came from President Bill Clinton. While in Washington from California, auditioning for co-host of CNN’s “Crossfire,” I attended a lunch at the White House. When I told the president why I was in town, he pulled me aside, looked me right in the eyes and said: “Here’s my advice. Don’t take no shit!” It was good advice. And I never have.

8. Piece of Advice for Budding Journalists: Work your ass off. Recognize how lucky you are to be in one of the world’s most fun and most important professions. Be fearless. Be stubbornly independent. Don’t take any shit. And make us all proud.

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