Clark’s questions – on the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya; stimulus money for the politically connected, Colorado-based Abound Solar; and the lack of civility in the Presidential race – represented a departure from the softball interview questions sitting presidents usually face in local markets.
Kyle graciously agreed to answer some of my emailed questions about the interview and the wide-ranging reactions to it.
Q: How was the decision made for you to be the one to interview President Obama?
A: As I understand it, the interview was offered to 9NEWS by President Obama’s campaign and our news director, Patti Dennis, asked me to conduct it. I’m not sure why I was selected; I’m not our political reporter, but like any player called off the bench by the coach, I just tucked in my jersey and hit the court.
Q: You have developed a reputation for asking hard-hitting questions, particularly as part of the 9Wants to Know investigative team. Did President Obama’s team push back when they learned you would be the one asking the questions?
A: I’ll be sure to mail you $5 for saying that. If President Obama’s team pushed back about me conducting the interview, I never heard about it.
Q: How did you prepare for the interview and select the questions you would ask?
A: I’m a political junkie who follows the campaigns pretty closely so I had a good idea which issues the candidates had already addressed head-on. We have no shortage of canned political messages on-air in Colorado, so my goal was to ask timely, tough, and fair questions that would elicit previously unheard answers on critical issues like Libya, the use of stimulus money and the tone of the race. I wrote out questions the night before the interview and ran them past about 10 people at 9NEWS to ensure that they were fair and addressed issues of interest. The morning of the interview, I adjusted our question on Libya to reflect recent comments made by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to the Associated Press.
Q: President Obama’s answers were perhaps a little longer than you might have expected. What were the next two questions you would have asked him if you’d had the time?
A: I would have liked to ask the President about Colorado’s unemployment rate, which is worse than the national average, and whether the unemployment rate is a fair measure of the number of Americans who are struggling. As a homebrewer, I would have liked to ask him about the homebrew being made at the White House, but in a short interview, it’s hard for me to justify asking a frivolous softball question.
Q: Your interview with the President made headlines nationally, particularly with conservative media outlets like Fox News, The Blaze and the Drudge Report, and you quickly became a hero to conservatives who feel that President Obama has not been forthright or accountable. Were you concerned at any point that your interview had become politicized or even co-opted by others with a political agenda?
A: Journalists’ work is frequently co-opted by partisans these days, especially online. I saw that earlier in this campaign when my reporting on Congressman Mike Coffman’s comments about President Obama became the lead story on MSNBC. The politicization is unfortunate, but it’s out of a journalist’s control.
Q: Several months ago, Democrats were hailing you for your devastating interview with Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. Is it strange to be alternately glorified and vilified based on your most recent work?
A: I have an email bin for some of the most vitriolic email I receive for my reporting. A few times, I’ve taken an email from someone accusing me of having a liberal bias and another email from someone accusing me of having a conservative bias and replied to both together requesting that those two viewers discuss it, come to an agreement and report back. Generally, people respond good-naturedly to that. I wish people would see the value in all candidates, including their preferred candidate, being asked tough questions rather than assuming that any challenging question must come from the journalist’s own personal bias.
Q: Many of those who appreciated your interview have said that you asked questions that the national press corps has not asked. Do you have any desire to move to the national stage at some point in your career?
A: I’ve always said that working on the national level doesn’t appeal to me as much as working in a local community, where a reporter can have strong ties with viewers and gain the knowledge to report on events in a way that’s truly useful to the community. However, if someone at the national level wants to try and convince me that I could do meaningful work there, I’d be willing to listen.
Q: Social media allows the public to interact with you. Did the way you view that interactivity change when the story (and the resulting opinions) became national compared to the local interaction you normally have?
A: The stream of social media interaction changes drastically when a local story goes national. It’s the difference between a garden hose and a fire hose. It’s been impossible to personally reply to the thousands of social media messages I’ve received, whereas I usually reply to every single email and social media message that I get from people in Colorado. Email is easier to manage. We’ve received emails on the interview from 41 states and four foreign countries. About half of the email is from people in Colorado. The thing that surprises me is the positive vs. negative split in perception of our interview. Right now, the tally is 689 positive and 9 negative.
Q: You had your chance to ask President Obama the tough questions. Are you able to enjoy that by itself, or does it feel incomplete without also being able to ask Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney equally tough questions?
A: It would be much more satisfying to be able to say that we were able to interview both of the leading candidates and asked both of them tough but fair questions.
Q: 9News has noted that Gov. Romney has an open invitation to be interviewed by you. What do you think the chances are that he takes you up on that offer before the election?
A: Why wouldn’t he want to join me on Colorado’s News Leader? It’ll be fun. I promise.