How Does It Feel…

…to interview John McCain? Pretty darn weird, and a little scary. I did it back in July for a piece that ran in Latina; check it out in the October issue, or see additional questions on the website. Y’all know my personal politics, but as a professional journalist, it was important that I go into the process with an open mind and an eye to write a balanced piece. So I wrote questions for both McCain and Obama (Oh, did I mention I also spoke with the Senator from Illinois? More on that later.) at the same time to make sure I had a balance of both policy-probing and tough questions for them both; there are no free passes ’round this way.

Anyway, after weeks of trying to get on his schedule, I finally nailed down an eight-minute phone call with McCain. It sounds like nothing, but you wouldn’t believe how tight these guys’ schedules are. Politics obviously lives in my heart (along with T.I.’s little self), and interviewing the presumed nominee was big shit for me. I was so wound up that I barely slept the night before, so busy was I running through my questions in my head.

No, he does not sound like a decrepit old man, as so many people have asked. He was pleasant, and he tried to say my name correctly, though it didn’t quite happen, but at least he tried. He seemed genuinely glad to be doing the interview, and gave me his undivided attention. And things were going along well…until my second question: I asked him why he didn’t vote for a bill that he had co-sponsored, which would have allowed undocumented immigrant students to get federal money for college. He launched into an explanation of his current immigration policy—“humane and compassionate”—and completely ignored my question until the end, when he told me that he has missed tons of votes while running for president, and that his Arizona constituents were fine with it. Okaaaaay. And maybe it’s just me, but the “humane and compassionate” comment just didn’t sit right; it sounds like the way you treat a dog. When I asked him to tell me exactly what that means, he basically said, you know, humanely and compassionately. Twice. Yeah, weird.

But things didn’t get really scary until he yelled at me. Granted, I asked him how he felt about critics who say he is no longer a Maverick and has realigned his views with Bush to toe the party line, but wow. It’s safe to say that he no like-y that particular question. It’s a good thing we were on the phone, because my eyes were huge with disbelief as he screamed that he had no idea where I got that from and it was absolutely not true, as he has always put country first! Overall, the interview was much like the debates: He stuck with his short, prepared responses; was combative when he deemed it necessary; and didn’t give much detail, which is admittedly hard to do in what turned out to be ten minutes.

Interviewing Obama, however, was more surreal than weird and scary. I was also super-sick, so I was more worried about coughing up a lung in his ear (yup, another phone call, this one also set for eight minutes) than screwing up a question. It was his birthday, so I tried to soften him up with a quick happy, happy. He accepted it graciously, then stopped me mid-sentence during my first question to ask me to pronounce my name again so he could be sure he had it right. He did. Nice. Then the responses started. So, I can say that he definitely answered my questions fully and thoughtfully, and it was clear that he was well-prepared and took the interview seriously. Problem is, I quickly ran into a problem his aides had warned me about—his tendency to be verbose. Boy can he talk (yes, I know I am also guilty of that one). I had a good ten questions to run through, but after we hit minute two of his answer to the first one, I knew that wasn’t happening. But it’s damn hard to interrupt this cat once he gets going, and you don’t want incomplete answers. When the aide broke into the call at the nine-minute mark, I had only gotten half of my questions addressed. It worked out—there wasn’t a ton of space in the mag to run the interview—but I just wish I’d had more time.

Either way, the whole thing felt pretty darn good.

If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts here.


Currently listening to: D’Angelo’s “Untitled (How Does It Feel).” Not because it has anything to do with this post, but now it’s in my head!

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