NBC’s Kate Snow perfects a soft approach in the hardest interviews, plus the Trump ad that CNN said ‘nope’ to

October 4, 2019
Category: Newsletters

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Good morning. It’s the end of another crazy week with talk of impeachment. (That sentence will certainly be written for the next several weeks.) In the meantime, today’s newsletter lead goes in a completely different direction. I start with a conversation with NBC’s Kate Snow about difficult interviews.

‘What I’m doing … is making a difference’

NBC’s Kate Snow does stories that can be uncomfortable — stories involving sexual assault, suicide, drug use, mental illness.

“It’s often people talking about things that they wouldn’t even want to tell their mom,” Snow told me in a phone interview earlier this week.

So how does she do it? How do you talk to people who have an important story to tell, but don’t necessarily feel comfortable telling it?

“I have an approach that I think makes people feel comfortable, which is what it’s all about,” Snow said. “People have to feel like they can trust me and that they can talk to me, and it’s going to be an OK experience.”

Snow was the first to interview Andrea Constand, the first woman to go public with sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. It was part of a June 2018 “Dateline” special for which Snow won an Emmy for best edited interview. (She won the same Emmy for a 2015 interview with 27 Cosby accusers.)

When Snow won the Emmy, Constand sent her a text saying, “This was such an important interview. It will and has helped so many others in their healing journey.”

Among other survivors, Snow has interviewed a survivor of Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and a woman who was kidnapped in Somalia and repeatedly raped. She recently interviewed a Boston man whose wife died outside an emergency room from an asthma attack. The interviews are never easy, but they are important. It starts with building a relationship so they see her as a person, not a reporter.

Snow told me there are things she does before interviews, such as telling the person she is interviewing to just breath. It’s a way to relax everyone. Then, once the interview starts, Snow lets it be known that everything is on the record, but that it’s OK to stop and compose oneself if emotions overcome them.

“If you need a moment to cry, then cry,” Snow said. “We’ll get through it together.”

Eventually, however, Snow knows that when she talks to survivors of sexual assault, for instance, there comes a time when she has to ask questions that could force them to relive what happened.

“I’m not going to push you to give me the gory details,” Snow said. “It’s your story. You’re going to tell me what you want people to know, and as much as you think is important for people to know.”

There are other things Snow does to make survivors more comfortable. She said she tries to find a comfortable, warm setting that feels like a home instead of a studio. If she is interviewing a female, she tries to be sure it’s the crew is made up mostly (if not entirely) of women.

What the survivors have gone through is horrific, but can their stories have an impact on the reporter who covers them?

“It does,” Snow said. “It sticks with you.”

She clears her head by running. She hugs her kids a little tighter when she comes home. She tries to stay as healthy as possible by getting plenty of rest.

“But the flip side is that I know that what I’m doing in these interviews is making a difference,” Snow said. “I know that some of these things I’ve done … I have people reaching out to me saying, ‘Thank you, you just enabled me to tell my story.’ Or members of Congress have reached out to say, ‘We’re going to propose some legislation. Can you help us reach this person that you interviewed?’ At the end of the day, that’s all any of us in journalism want —to make some kind of difference in what we’re doing.”

Besides work for NBC, Snow has a show that debuts tonight on Oxygen called “Relentless with Kate Snow.” The show will profile people who have suffered tragic losses due to crime, and have pushed for justice.

You’d think this would’ve gone smoother


New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor, left, and Megan Twohey. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

It seemed like a great idea: legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward interviewing New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey before a live audience in D.C. about “She Said” — their blockbuster book on Harvey Weinstein and the MeToo movement. Woodward had high praise for the book, calling it a “masterpiece.”

But the interview turned tense when audience members began shouting out that Woodward was constantly interrupting Kantor and Twohey. Some in attendance yelled out “You’re interrupting her!” and “Stop!” while others booed and hissed.

Woodward later told The Washington Post in an email, “As a longtime believer in the First Amendment, I am glad people got to express themselves. Jodi and Megan signed a copy of their book for me after the session, which I enjoyed very much, and said ‘Thank you for the fabulous questions.’ So there may be a difference of opinion.”

He later told the Post by telephone that he was simply trying to move the conversation along. In an email to The Post, Kantor and Twohey wrote, “We’re just starting our book tour, and we’re grateful to all the moderators — Bob Woodward, Katie Couric, America Ferrera and many others — who have agreed to join us onstage. We welcome all questions, from them and especially from the audience, because each one is an opportunity to relate the wrenching decisions that many of our sources had to make and grapple with MeToo as an example and test of social change in our time.”

The Post’s Lisa Bonos and Emily Yahr have a good roundup of the entire evening.

Shocking no one, CNN nixes Trump ad


President Donald Trump earlier this week. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

CNN is refusing to run an ad from President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, saying it contains inaccuracies about Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and unfairly attacks CNN employees. The ad has unsubstantiated allegations about financial ties between Biden (and his son, Hunter) and Ukraine. It also criticizes journalists, calling them “media lap dogs” for the Democrats. It shows CNN personalities as it says this.

A CNN spokesperson told The Daily Beast’s Andrew Kirell, “In addition to disparaging CNN and its journalists, the ad makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets, including CNN.”

Tim Murtagh, communications director for Trump’s re-election campaign, told The New York Times that the ad was entirely accurate and added, “CNN spends all day protecting Joe Biden in their programming. So it’s not surprising that they’re shielding him from truthful advertising, too.”

That elusive 40%

Fox News has rolled out a marketing campaign for its 2020 election coverage, according to Adweek’s Jason Lynch. What makes it interesting is the campaign doesn’t feature any of Fox News’ on-air talent. Instead, the campaign — called “Democracy 2020” as opposed to the past campaign called “America’s Election Headquarters” — features citizens of all races in various settings.

The first phase of the ads tells the audience, “It’s in your hands.”

Jason Klarman, executive vice president of marketing for Fox News Media, told Adweek, “The star of this ad is America; it’s the people. It’s not about us; it’s about them. Making that emotional appeal and connecting our election brand to their everyday lives was the goal.”

Starting in November, look for a big push with the ads showing up pretty much everywhere, including football games. The way Klarman explains it, there are 30% of people who will always watch Fox News and 30% who will never watch Fox News. The goal is to attract as many of the other 40% as it can.

‘We owe them … to deliver on that responsibility’


“ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Variety’s Brian Steinberg has a quick but worthwhile Q&A with “ABC World News Tonight” anchor David Muir. Steinberg asked Muir what evening news broadcasts have to do to keep audiences interested.

“At the end of the day,” Muir told him, “we have a responsibility to break through the noise, to cut through it all and essentially to say, ‘What’s the bottom line here? What do folks at home need to know about any given story?’ I think that in this era of a saturated media environment, if people are coming to you, we owe them more than ever to really deliver on that responsibility.”

Hot type

  • Wow, this is quite the story from ProPublica’s Caroline Chen. A hospital kept a man in a vegetative state to boost survival rates and avoid federal scrutiny.
  • Another superb piece from ProPublica: Akilah Johnson profiles The Villages, a 115,000-person retirement community in Florida that has its own health care system and loves President Trump.
  • Two stunning hugs — with captivating video — end the trial of a cop found guilty of murdering her neighbor, writes the Dallas Morning News’ Jennifer Emily.
  • A right-leaning journalist shares his story to Trump allies before it’s published. Is it unethical or was he just having it fact-checked? Erin Banco and Maxwell Tani have the story in The Daily Beast.
  • A bad day at Sports Illustrated as half the staff has been laid off. The Big Lead is putting together a running list of the layoffs.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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