Reisman, left, and Walters, right. Notice Reisman has the larger head.
Indigo books honcho Heather Reisman's vanity is out of control.
Her decision – and I guess we can blame publisher Knopf, too – to do an on onstage interview with Barbara Walters wasted a huge opportunity to get inside the heart and mind of the woman who single-handedly turned the on-air interview into pure gold.
A professional journalist would have extracted something more than just a rehash of her book – fascinating as it is – and would have given the audience more than just a conversation between the world's most famous interviewer and one of her greatest fans. Presumably, the folks at Knopf couldn't care less. The event was sold out and Walters's book Audition (see my review here) is #1 on the bestseller list and should stay there for quite a while.
On the escalator down from the Winter Garden Theatre, almost every audience member complained about Reisman.
"You don't interrupt Barbara Walters," grumbled one.
"And her questions were so open-ended, there was no direction," complained another.
Indeed – and why should we be surprised – Walters was in complete control of the conversation. She showed superb comic timing and had a rock star's rapport with the audience. So the evning wasn't a total loss.
But poor Reisman. She had a nervous habit of scratching her right leg – the side facing the audience. Walters sat there, cool as a cucumber. Walters 1 Reisman 0.
One of her first questions was about Walters having to downsize from a large apartment to a small one. Real estate? Come on, Heather. Walters did take the opportunity to mention that it made her take nothing for granted, but then she veered into a story from the book. Walters 2 Reisman 0.
Reisman: How did you get those interviews with all those men?
Walters: "First I have to tell you..."
It reminded me or the time as a young interviewer I asked a subject a question and he answered, "A better question would be..." I didn't know how to gain back control of the interview, and, here, neither did Reisman. Walters 3 Reisman 0.
She then asked whether the journalists were asking more personal questions than is necessary? Walters turned it around and said personal questions were more than necessary. Smart in and of itself, but then she commented that she didn't think it was important to know whether Clinton wore boxer or jockey shorts.
"Or whether Monica Lewinsky wears a thong," Reisman eagerly chimed in.
"Well, no," chided Walters. "That was news. It almost led to Clinton's impeachment." Walters 4 Reisman 0.
A skilled interviewer knows when she has an opening that she can take advantage of? On the issue of whether Walters ever used used her feminine wiles, Walters deftly responded, "When I'm sitting doing interview, I'm never flirtatious." Did Reisman ask if Walters was ever flirtatious with the subject when the camera was off? No. Walters 5 Reisman 0.
"We're gonna talk about the lovers," said Reisman.
"No," said Walters.
"OK, we'll get to the lovers later."
Wrong response. Reisman had to say, right then, "Why not?" especially since Walters speaks so openly about her boyfriends in her book. Reisman never got back to the boyfriend thing, which meant we heard nothing of Alan Greenspan, John Warner, etc. Give Walters 2 points for escaping that one. Walters 7 Reisman 0.
Then there were the real gaffes. When introducing the topic of the Middle East conflict, Reisman began by listing the principles in the area that Walters had interviewed but then stumbled over King Hussein.
"Did you interview King Hussein?," Reisman asked. "Five times," answered Walters. Walters 8 Reisman 0.
Reisman betrayed her absence of any real training when she consistently made the error of asking questions with yes or no answers. It's an easy way to get nothing.
Question: Did you ever make a real mistake? Answer: No. Reisman should have been able to come back with a few examples of errors. Walters 9 Reisman 0.
Question: Any romance in your life right now? Answer: "I have a wonderful life right now. I will never remarry and I will never live with anyone. I have never been so happy."
Obvious follow-up: Yes, but is there any romance in you life right now? Did Reisman do the obvious. She did not. Walters 10 Reisman 0!Am I suffering from a bit of journalism envy? Obviously – I'll happily cop to that. Interviewing Barbara Walters is a life's dream for any journalist.
And to be fair, not even the best and most skilled interviewer can get anything out of Walters that she doesn't want to give.
On the CBC Radio 1's The Current show Tuesday morning, host Anna Maria Tremonti tried to turn the tables on Walters. One of Walters's major interviewing gambits is to ask, "Some people say that you are....(fill in the blanks). How do you respond to that?"
When Tremonti said, "Some people say that it was your interview template that led to ABC to choose an interview with Mary Kay Letourneau (who slept with her student) over George W. Bush, Walters countered with, "I don't know anybody who says that." Genius.
But Tremonti's interview was totally professional. She tapped original research, asked questions about what other journalists had said about her and acknowledged the female CBC staffers who were peering into the studio to see their role model, making listeners feel like we were in the studio with them.
Reisman, on the other hand, was completely out of her league.