Republican political commentator Ben Shapiro did an interview with BBC’s Andrew Neil yesterday. He ended up walking out of the interview and media have wasted no time in issuing scathing headlines that present Shapiro as unreasonable, angry, pouting, and as having “lost” this debate. Just Google “Shapiro” and “BBC” and you’ll see gleeful headlines about this.
You can watch Shapiro’s full interview and judge for yourself if he was annihilated as media have generally characterized it. I thought Andrew Neil was much more reasonable than the pompous ass at BBC who interviewed me a few years ago. Neil is also much more intelligent. But the key part in this interview comes at the 3:45 mark. Here, Neil refers to Georgia’s “heartbeat” abortion law as “taking us back to the Dark Ages” and as “barbaric.” This is an absurd statement. When Shapiro pushes back on this, Neil says, not without merit, that it is his job to play the devil’s advocate:
Neil: “If you were an anti-abortion person, I would put pro-choice questions to you.” (Neil undoubtedly misspoke here and meant the opposite since Shapiro is an anti-abortion person.)
Shapiro: “Sir, would you suggest [in an opposite interview scenario] that a late-term abortion is brutal?” Neil never answered the question and Shapiro never got over that important fact.
Shapiro clearly went on the program believing the interview was going to be about a book he has written. Neil spent the interview reading Shapiro’s old articles and tweets. This was a petty tactic and it made for an interview that lacked any real substance. You learn nothing about Shapiro’s book and less about the real issues in question. Regardless, while some would criticize Shapiro for having his back up, I fully understand why he did. It seems they brought him on the show under false pretenses and when you are a conservative doing these things, you had better go into it expecting to be attacked.
I have spent a lot of time in recent years pointing out to our readers the way media works because it is so important that you understand. Gone are the days of media titans like John Chancellor, Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd or, more recently, Tom Brokaw and Ted Koppel. These were men who, while having opinions of their own, nonetheless maintained a dignified air of neutrality. Today, media have generally become active combatants in the culture wars, and they undermine their interviewees in subtle ways.
Let me give several personal examples:
- Some years ago, Lifeline Adoption was under fire from a disgruntled person who was considering adoption. A dubious local reporter named Linda White took up her cause. Lifeline pointed Ms. White to Lauri and me. We love Herbie Newell and the people at Lifeline and were more than happy to defend them. Ms. White and a news crew came to interview us. For more than an hour they filmed us answering her questions. We were very careful in our answers. It all felt like an attempt at a smear job, not of us, but of Lifeline. We made it very clear that we were happy with the adoption services Lifeline provided and that we knew that there are things in the international adoption process that Lifeline cannot control. Ms. White lifted a couple of comments from the interview, thus removing them from their context, and pitted them against Lifeline in an unfavorable way.
- In 2015, I wrote this column for USA Today. Shortly thereafter, I received an invitation to appear on Al Jazeera television to debate my assertion that Islam is not a religion of peace while Christianity is. I flew to NYC and readied for what I was certain would be an unfriendly experience. This was a “live-to-tape” interview, that is, an interview that is filmed as if it were live but is edited and aired later. As a rule, I do not like interviews that are not live. They can be altered. If you watch the interview, it seems fair. What you don’t see is the interviewer, off camera, makes distracting gestures and facial expressions as if everything you said was nonsense. Because it was a multi-camera shoot, however, these are all edited out. So, when you watch it, he sits solemnly, respectfully. But in reality, he did nothing of the sort. Even so, I was not displeased with the debate
- Most noteworthy of all, in 2016, I did an interview with BBC’s Newsnight. As with Shapiro, the interview was supposed to be about my book. That, at least, is what I was told. But it soon became clear that the intolerably smug interviewer, James O’Brien, had not bothered to read my book. On the contrary, his only objective was to browbeat me and discredit me. Most outrageous of all, he then brought on Lawrence Krauss who was given full rein to criticize me and my book when he knew nothing about either. My mic was shut off so that I could not respond to Krauss! As it turned out, I think this interview went rather well under the circumstances because it was so obviously unfair and also because I had been warned to expect an ambush.
The point is, most major media outlets are left-leaning and when they interview people who do not hold their views the table is often tilted against them. You must be aware that they control your mic and they control the format. If you go into these things naively you risk having your message (literally) muted, muddled, or distorted. On a positive note, I have been interviewed by a number of real pros: Carol Costello of CNN, Chris Matthews of MSNBC, John Stossel of Fox News, as well as several others. It is not my expectation—and I’m certain is it not Shapiro’s expectation—that an interviewer agrees with everything I say or believe. Where’s the fun in that? But you have a right to expect to be treated fairly, and many do not do that.
At one point in Shapiro’s interview, he makes this unfortunate statement: “I am popular, and no one has ever heard of you [i.e., Neil].” I’m sure Shapiro regrets that statement. It seemed arrogant and condescending. But I will say this in his defense: if you have never done these things, it always looks easy at home. I have come off of stage, television, and radio only to have people tell me what I “should have said.” I think I’m pretty good at Jeopardy! but that is only because I play it at home on the couch.