The Story Behind the Interview

In early March, with the third anniversary of the war in Iraq looming and a host of protests at the mainstream media's coverage of the war slated to occur in several cities, I began my efforts to interview CNN/US President Jonathan Klein. CNN Worldwide Senior Vice President for Public Relations Laurie Goldberg was the point person.

On March 8 she emailed me to say, "Jon is traveling quite a bit this week, but I will do my best to make it happen as soon as possible. I'm sure Jon would love to speak with you."

Two days later, however, things weren't looking so good. "Jon's schedule just seems to be getting worse rather than better," Goldberg wrote. "One thing we have done in the past that might work is you can email me the questions, and I can forward them to Jon to answer. That is probably the best way to get what you want sooner rather than later. Please let me know if this will work for now."

I told her that would be fine, and the next day she wrote, "If you just email me your questions, I'll get you his answers ASAP."

On March 13, I sent Goldberg the 20 questions I had posted that day and then asked, "When can I expect the replies, please?"

She replied, "Since these are pretty elaborate questions, it might take a little while. I will get them to him today and see what he thinks timewise."

When I suggested we could speed things up by simply doing an interview in person, Goldberg responded in a startling manner. "He doesn't have time right now. He won't be answering all 20 individually since they are all basically the same question. Also, you should keep in mind that he wasn't at CNN for the first 20 months of the war."

To Goldberg's plaint that Klein no longer had "time right now," I noted that I had again proposed an in-person interview only "since you said it might take a little while for him to write responses. Being interviewed by me would be much quicker."

To her assertion that my 20 questions were "all basically the same question," I replied, "Previously you said, 'These are pretty elaborate questions.' Now they're suddenly all the same question?"

And to her reminder that "Also, you should keep in mind that he wasn't at CNN for the first 20 months of the war," I responded, "So that should free him up to take an objective look at CNN's coverage during that period."

The next day Goldberg wrote back, "When I looked at each of the questions more carefully, while they gave specific examples, they were virtually the same question."

"I don't agree," I told her. "I spent a lot of time formulating very specific questions, which I was told Jon would answer via email because he had once again become 'too busy' to be interviewed after agreeing to do so. (This is the third time that happened.) Now it appears he and CNN are ducking out because you all don't like the questions asked. I say 'appears' because I can't believe that to be the case -- but unfortunately, I suspect many of my readers will see only the appearance of a dodge. Perhaps you can explain your assertion that "they were virtually the same question"? What do you mean by that, specifically? I'll be happy to reformulate them so it's more clear that there are 20 individual, specific questions -- not at all the same, as you say. How are they the same? I'm frankly quite puzzled."

"He is not ducking out of the questions," Goldberg replied. "You clearly have a very specific agenda, and Jon will answer how he sees fit. He may not answer all 20 specifically because of time restraints, just like if it was a live interview he would only have so much time. Why don't you just wait until you get the responses?"

Later that day she emailed me again, "Jon may want to call you after all."

And still later that day, someone claiming to be Jonathan Klein left the following comment on my blog:

"Good questions, Rory, though some are repetitive. I won't be discussing CNN's coverage of the start of the war, since I didn't start working at CNN until December 2004 -- so I would not know what I was talking about! But I'll faithfully discuss our coverage of the war since that date. Looking forward to our conversation."
I emailed to Goldberg for confirmation. "If it is Jon, I'm happy to hear he is looking forward to our conversation -- but I'm confused since you have repeatedly indicated that he is too busy to confer, and variously have indicated that he may answer the questions via email, may only answer one question since "all the questions are the same," or that he may in fact call me to have an actual conversation. In any event, I would appreciate clarification as to what exactly is happening in terms of getting a reply -- i.e., when and how.

"That was him." Goldberg wrote back. "He initially wanted to answer by email, but after seeing your questions, decided he would do it by phone when he could. I was trying to get him for you sooner rather than later -- hence the suggestion that he do by email. Not sure when he is going to be doing it."

"Well can you please either try to find out, or give me a number to call him?" I countered.

"I have been trying to find out," Goldberg responded. "You will know when I know. I don't give his phone number out. Right now he is out of town all of next week other than Thursday at 3. We have penciled you in for that time, but I can't promise it will happen, since it is his only day in the office.

"That's not much of an excuse," I responded, "Since I assume he has access to telephones even when not in the office? Whatever -- I will await a call, or an email, or a reply of any sort, if and when CNN and Jon want to engage."

To his credit, Klein did call at the appointed hour to discuss at least some of the 40 questions we posted for his consideration. Judge for yourself whether he simply gave the same answer to what he felt -- rightly or wrongly -- was the same repeated question. But at least he was willing to engage, which is a lot more than can be said about, say, Roger Ailes at Fox News

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