How to beat Tim Russert.

Media criticism.
July 2 2003 6:40 PM

How To Beat Tim Russert

Get inside his head and shake vigorously.

(Continued from Page 2)

5) Interrupt Him. Interrupt Again. And Again.

It's easier to be a talk-show guest than a talk-show host. While you formulate your answers, he's multitasking: Listening to you, summoning his next question, watching the stage manager, and wincing while his producer shouts "30 seconds to commercial break!!!" in his earpiece. Use his confusion to your advantage. He's worried about the time constraints, the show's choreography, and the other interviews and round tables coming up. If you don't beat him in the first quarter of the interview, you can still win the game.

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Remember, this is your interview, not his. Too many of Russert's guests allow him to fling enormous, mattress-sized paragraphs at them that are far too complicated to answer on television. Interrupt him when a question needs clarification. Interrupt him when he's startled you with something fresh. Interrupt him back when he interrupts you. Interrupt him for the hell of it. It drives him crazy, and when he's crazy, he loses his place in the script, his face goes a tad red, and he loses his momentum. Duke successfully interrupted Russert in 1999, forcing Russert to request, "Let me finish"—something guests usually say.

While you're on camera, you might think he's the master interlocutor, but you're only this week's flavor. His staff had only a week to prepare for you. Assign your staff to build the sort of book on Russert's techniques, rhetorical gambits, and political obsessions that you'd want going into a debate with an opposing candidate. Then study hard.

And, lastly, remember to smile. David Duke did.

******

Beat, stir, or shake at pressbox@hotmail.com.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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