We are doing a taped interview with former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson tomorrow afternoon, Thursday, May 23, and I am soliciting viewer questions. Do you have a question you’d like me to pose to the man who helped bring Chicago six NBA championship rings? Questions about Michael v. Kobe v. LaBron? Questions about his time in Chicago? About Pippen, Kukoc, and any of the other notables from those championship years? He has a new book out called Eleven Rings–The Soul of Success. If you have an inquiry you’d like us to make to the acclaimed “Zenmaster”, please send it to me as a “comment.” Thanks! (The interview will air some time next week.)
We had acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the program last night. He’s in town to participate in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s RIVERS festival. Also with him was Martha Gilmer, the CSO’s vice president for artistic planning.
I bet if most Americans had to name a famous cellist, the name most people would come up with would probably be Yo-Yo Ma. Agree?
One of the benefits of this job is that I occasionally get to meet famous people of accomplishment. But it’s risky to meet someone whose work you admire. What if he or she turns out to be a jerk, prickly or full of themselves? Then it becomes harder to like the person’s work and you’re deprived of that pleasure.
I won’t mention names, but I have encountered a few people of renown whose work has lost some of its luster after I met them in person. (I know–I should be able to separate the art from the artist!)
This is a roundabout way of saying that in person, Yo-Yo Ma is gracious, friendly, personable and downright charming. When you combine his human decency and good manners with a sharp mind and blazing talent–it’s no wonder he’s having a remarkable career and is in such demand. There’s an old adage in business: “People like doing business with people they like.” I bet that’s true in any field, including music.
So go ahead and listen to Yo-Yo Ma’s music anytime. Your pleasure should be enhanced knowing that underneath that sumptuous music is a great guy! Here’s the interview in case you missed it:
U.S. News and Word Report White House correspondent Ken Walsh was on last night talking about his new book, Prisoners of the White House–The Isolation of America’s Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership. It is a fascinating account of how easy it is for presidents to lose touch with how everyday Americans think, act and live.
Starting with FDR, he breaks presidents into groups of who was able to stay in touch and who wasn’t. He gives high marks to FDR, Truman, Reagan, Clinton and Obama. Low marks go to LBJ, Nixon, Carter and the Bushes.
He notes that it takes an almost heroic effort to stay in touch and that a president has to use several avenues, including input from the first spouse. But he writes that it’s hard to give a president tough feedback, and that it’s common for an underling to promise to give the boss straight talk and then quiver in his presence–particularly in the intimidating setting of the Oval Office.
It’s a far cry from the days of Lincoln when practically anybody could walk right into the White House and talk to the President. Poor Abe only had two rooms to himself (and I assume one of them was the Lincoln bedroom!)
See what Walsh had to say about the influence of Valerie Jarrett and what he calls the president’s gaggle of “idolizers” who may not always level with him by watching the full interview:
Last week, I had the first-time-ever experience of criminal jury duty. It was a case of retail theft. The trial started at about 10:00 am and lasted several hours. Some lessons if you’re on trial:
- Never, ever even think about stealing something from a big box store. The store that was victimized in our case has 30 cameras running and key moments were captured and shown to the jury.
- That pleasant-looking person standing close to you may very well be the store’s security person who has seen every trick in the book that a shoplifter has ever tried–or thought about trying.
- Even the best defense lawyer can be of little use to you if you intentionally walk out of a store without paying for something.
- Dress up a bit. Meet the jury at least halfway in terms of appearance.
- If the jury deliberates for less than a few minutes — probably not a good sign.
If you’re a juror:
- Some of your fellow jurors are people you would never have encountered otherwise, but could probably become good friends if given the chance.
- Enjoy the experience of having people stand up for you when you and the other jurors walk into the courtroom. Makes you feel downright presidential!
First, my apologies for not getting this out faster. I was on jury duty this week and that threw my schedule out of whack.
But, back to answer my earlier post about the guest who literally gave me nightmares. Good guess, “Thomas H.” You were right! It was movie director William Friedkin. Not that he wasn’t gracious, engaging and professional when he was a guest–Friedkin was all those things. But he was responsible for literally giving me nightmares by directing the 1973 movie The Exorcist.
That movie not only scared the stuffing out of me when I saw it, it gave me nightmares afterwards. To this day I cannot watch any movies that deal with the devil, possession, etc. And I blame Chicago’s very own (and one-time WTTW employee) William Friedkin. Here’s that interview; one of the questions I ask him is if the movie actually scares him.
And one more piece of unfinished business. In an earlier post, I alluded to something happening during my interview with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–something that had never happened before during any interview. The answer: she shook my hand during the interview. She was talking about the tradition on the high court of all the justices shaking hands before a session and was illustrating the human connection that comes from that gesture.
There. All caught up.
I have not kept track of how many guests I have interviewed over the course of my career. I’m guessing the number is in the thousands. The vast majority have been professional, prepared and not problematic. That’s not to say there haven’t been many guests who have been challenging and even contentious interview subjects, but seldom beyond the bounds of what’s considered appropriate in the context of a robust encounter.
In other words, the overwhelming majority of guests have not caused me excessive stress before, during or after an interview. They’ve caused me to diligently prepare, to focus and to work–yes, but extreme stress or anxiety? Hardly ever.
Only one guest has actually given me nightmares, real nightmares. The kind that have really scared the dickens out of me. And I interviewed that person recently. In the next post, I’ll reveal the culprit’s name! (Bonus points if you can guess who.)
Having gone to law school and studied the U.S. Supreme Court, it is a memorable experience to interview a sitting justice or even a former one. As a student, it’s hard not to start thinking of them as black-robed demi-gods.
When I was in law school, I had a brief social encounter with Justice Harry Blackmun and I considered it one of the highlights of my student days. And a few years back, I had the good fortune of interviewing Justice Stephen Breyer.
Likewise, my encounter last week with former justice Sandra Day O’Connor will stand out by virtue of her personality and what she said. On the personal side, she struck me as someone who definitely knows who she is and is extremely comfortable in her own skin. She has a palpable “center” and is clear about what she thinks. She also strikes me as someone who doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
And what she had to say made an impression too: that at its core, the U.S. Supreme Court is a very human institution. In her book, Out of Order, she cites several examples of that, including a demonstration that was a first-ever for me during an interview. We aired the interview last night; watch it to see if you can identify what she did that no one has ever done before in any interview I have ever conducted!
As some of you may know, I went to law school and practiced law for six years before I switched career paths. In law school, many of the cases we studied and debated were written by justices of the United States Supreme Court. As a result, it was hard for me not to think of the justices as larger than life. The names Holmes, Cardozo, Frankfurter and Black almost took on the same mythic quality as Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart have in the world of music.
Imagine if you are a Roman Catholic priest and you get to interview the Pope. That is kind of what it feels like to have been a lawyer and to interview a Supreme Court Justice — or even a former justice. Which is a long way of saying that I interviewed Sandra Day O’Connor last week and the interview airs tonight. I’ll share my personal impressions of her tomorrow. In the meantime, view our timeline of key events in her life and career.
This past week I interviewed the former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. She was Ireland’s president from 1997 to 2011, serving the two seven-year terms allowed under Irish law. She happened to succeed another woman president making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. Another distinction–she was the first Irish president originally from Northern Ireland.
In fact, it was her family’s experience as Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland that caused them to leave. Her family was the object of sectarian violence there–her father’s bar was bombed and her family’s home machine gunned.
As a result, she selected “Building Bridges” as the theme for her presidency. As president, she not only visited Northern Ireland, she also had people from there make official visits to see her. She’s given much credit for the peace that has ensued. The highlight of this effort to build bridges may have been her invitation to Queen Elizabeth to visit Ireland. The queen accepted the invitation, making her the first British monarch ever to visit the Republic of Ireland.
When McAleese talked about coming to terms with former opponents, she said something that stuck with me: “It’s better to get 90% of something than 100% of nothing.”
I’ve interviewed a lot of people who are noteworthy, accomplished and compelling. What a pleasure it is to interview someone who is also inspiring. If you watch any part of this interview I think you’ll see what I mean.
Last night it was an honor to speak with two former members of the old Negro Leagues: Ray Knox, who played with the Chicago American Giants from 1950 to 1951 and Hank Presswood, who played with the Cleveland Buckeyes from 1948 to 1950 and the Kansas City Monarchs from 1950 to 1952. Along with writer, Jonathan Eig, they were on the show to discuss the anniversary of Jackie Robinson entering the major leagues–an event underscored by the new movie about Robinson called “42.”
These former baseball players were so gracious and spoke in such a heartfelt way about their regard for Robinson and their continuing love of the game. And sitting so close to them, I could almost read the lessons of history in their faces. We showed a picture of Presswood sitting in the dugout when he played for the Cleveland team and he looks so young in the picture, it almost hurts.
It occurred to me even as I spoke to them on-the-air that talking to them was like pulling a book off the shelf — one you’d read and thought you’d understood but realizing anew the beauty of the lessons it holds.