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Monday, December 4, 2023

Interviews, interviewers and the interviewed

Until last week, it has never occurred to me that anyone would take umbrage at not being interviewed and begrudge another who was interviewed instead.  Is there such a thing as the right to be interviewed?  Last time I checked, that was not among the recognized rights in the most influential legal codes.  And if it is not a right, by what right does someone who was not interviewed accost and harangue an interviewer who made a different choice for an interviewee?  The fact that one has many “followers” on Facebook does not necessarily make one a worthwhile interviewee. Followers follow for different reasons: You are funny, you are enlightening, your are awesome, you are ridiculous or you are remarkably stupid!  Reporters interview witnesses and bystanders, as do the police.  Journalists interview in support of a perspective.

Does that mean that journalists have biases?  Of course they do.  Bias is not a bad word.  When hermeneutics took strides forward in the first half of the preceding century, we were already told this. What makes all understanding possible are prejudices by which we anticipate meaning, prejudices that are altered, corrected, critiqued by experience and the encounter with the hard facts of the world.  But no one at all writes or speaks from a tabula rasa…a blank slate.  It is when biases are unrecognized and uncriticized that thought, writing and speech go awry.  So, BBC has its slant on things, as does CNN, as does TV5 as does Al Jazeera as does Fox News—and the extent to which the bias manifests itself all depends on the kind of program aired.  Commentary, panel discussions, chatrooms—these are fora of opinion and opinion-making.  Do not fault the journalist for having an opinion.  That is his job.  That is his livelihood.  It is not his fault that you have not formed one. It can only be a statement of your own intellectual sloth or, worse, lack of integrity.

In historical research, the workings of bias are apparent.  One hypothesizes on the past on the basis of artifacts, documents, monuments, archaeological finds, paleontological remains, etc.  But one will have a whole mass of these, and must separate the relevant from the irrelevant.  One must make choices, and choices—all choices—rest on biases, one’s particular “take,” perspective, standpoint towards things.  It is never possible to step out of biases.  They are the pre-conditions of understanding.  Anytime I write a line for this article, I take on the biases of the English language, the Filipino manner of expression, and my own view of things.  To step out of all this is to ask me to stop writing altogether, in fact, to desist from thought.

If one has thoughts that journalists, writers and commentators think worth soliciting, they will interview you.  Otherwise, why demand that the lights be turned on you to give you your two minute share of “fame,” and the chance for you to share your two cents worth(less)—and expression I owe to the late, revered Justice Isagani Cruz who had little patience for pretenders at the writing craft!  And to accost a writer, accusing him of being “biased” for not having solicited your rambling, discombobulated  thoughts—that is really the stupidest thing one can do: First, because the charge of being biased is tantamount to accusing someone of thinking; second, because one needs the affirmation of being interviewed to be assured that one’s postings, musings, moaning and groaning have sense and value.  In everything, pathetic in the utmost!

It is said that Wittgenstein, that genius of a thinker who wrote laconically, once visited Russell—both Cambridge fellows—and paced wildly up and down Russell’s room, wondering aloud: “Am I really brilliant or just a fool?”  And while a Filipino, eager to flatter and to please, would have effortlessly assured Wittgenstein that he had the brilliance of nothing less than a member of the Blessed Trinity, Russell instructed Wittgenstein: “Write down your thoughts and we shall see”—and Wittgenstein produced the revolutionary Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that my students in the philosophy of language must struggle with each year.

I must give the same unsolicited advise to the petulant—who are offended that they are not interviewed.  “Write your thoughts down—and we shall see.”

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