The art of interviewing

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on January 31, 2010

On Fox News Sunday this morning, just as occurred last week, Democrats attempted to defend the Obama administration’s decision to read the Christmas Day bomber his Miranda rights after only 50 minutes of interrogation.

This week it was Rep. Chris Van Hollen and NPR commentator Juan Williams who attempted to peddle the theory that U.S. intelligence officials got all the information they could possibly need from the terrorist.

I’m not an intelligence professional, but after 15 years in the news media, I know how to interview someone.

Let’s forget about Abdulmuttalab for a second. Let’s say you put me in a room on a moment’s notice with Rep. Chris Van Hollen and ask me to find out all I can about what he’s been doing for the last 6 months, can I accomplish that in 50 minutes?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: If I knew I’d be doing an in-depth interview with Van Hollen, I can guarantee you I’d have spent much more than 50 minutes before I even sat down to talk with him culling through his Congressional Web site, articles in the local and national newspapers and anything else I can find out about him. This would help me direct my questioning and it would help me tell when he’s telling me the truth and when he’s lying. I’ve conducted longer interviews with small-city mayors about moving the site of a local festival than the FBI got with Abdulmuttalab.

There’s no way that U.S. intelligence officials got everything the could get out of Abdulmuttalab in 50 minutes. No way.

And it shouldn’t take an intelligence professional or a former journalist to tell you that.

The fact that Robert Gibbs, Chris Van Hollen and Juan Williams are reduced to arguing differently is a sign of how badly the Obama administration botched this case.

There’s still time to reverse this decision and treat Abdulmuttalab as an enemy combatant and question him rigorously. I’m skeptical that that will happen. Apparently President Barack Obama is fine with some more Americans possibly dying than we make life difficult for a man who tried to kill 300 people.


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January 2010



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