The story making the rounds today about a dustup between the "Today" show and Amy Adams on Monday reminded me of the above quote that was supposedly uttered by Casey Stengel.
He was the manager of the fledgling New York Mets at the time (1962-65) and was expressing amazement over the team’s ineptitude. The quote popped into my head when I read the various accounts of how the "Today" show suddenly dropped a planned interview segment with Adams because, the reports say, she or her press rep made it known to the show’s producers that Adams would rather not be asked questions about the Sony computer-hacking scandal.
Adams apparently wanted the interview to adhere strictly to her new movie called “Big Eyes,” coming out on Christmas Day. But the "Today" show wanted to ask her what she thought of the hacking mess.
A dustup (or possibly a full-fledged fracas) ensued in the Green Room, the stories say, and the "Today" show yanked her segment, reportedly just minutes before she was to go on. According to the stories, the powers that be at “Today” explained that as a “news” program, they shouldn’t have to negotiate with interview subjects over this or that line of questioning.
As a result of this incident, the world was denied an opportunity to hear Amy Adams talk about her new movie. How will we ever recover from this devastating loss?
The thing that amazes me about this story (and others like it): How did this even become a subject for disagreement?
How would Amy Adams have suffered if she had been asked something like: “Amy, the Sony computer hack is one of the biggest stories now in the news. Plus, there were reports about some leaked e-mails stemming from the hacking that concerned another movie of yours, 'American Hustle,' that revealed you and Jennifer Lawrence may have been paid less than Bradley Cooper for that movie. What is your reaction to all of this?”
Rather than suffer, throw a tantrum or faint dead away from such a question, all Adams would have had to do was maintain her poise and say something like: “I don’t really know enough about this subject to comment on it.” Or: “I feel pretty badly for everyone who has been caught up in all the stories about these leaked e-mails because I have had great experiences working with Sony and I have nothing but respect and affection for everyone at the company. Beyond that, I really don’t have anything to say.”
And even if her interviewer persisted, all she really had to do was smile sweetly, shrug her shoulders and say, “Beats me,” or some equivalent. At some point, her inquisitor would move on and that would be that.
I have conducted hundreds of interviews myself in my career and have always come to the same conclusion: As an interviewer, all I can do is ask the questions. I can’t hold a gun to a subject’s head and demand that they answer. And if they don’t want to answer the question, all they have to do is say so.
Whenever I hear of these incidents where celebrities and their PR handlers get into these tit-for-tat negotiations over the subject matter of interviews, I have to marvel at the publicists’ incompetence. What they should be doing is anticipating all possible questions and coaching their clients on how to answer them. And if some questions require evasive answers, then instruct them on how to answer those too.
I imagine that this might be easier said than done when a celebrity is embroiled in some scandal of his or her own, and facing possible questions about it. But that’s not the case with Amy Adams. She should have just done the interview.
As for the "Today" show, it’s always hilarious when the show invokes its status as a “news” program. Sure, there’s a great deal of “news” on the "Today" show, but also a lot of non-news. Call me crazy, but it didn’t seem like “news” when Matt Lauer dressed up as Pamela Anderson in a “Baywatch” bathing suit for Halloween. But hey, what do I know?
What the "Today" show should have done about this interview situation was pretend to agree to these “terms” about the interview’s subject matter, and then ask the questions anyway. That’s what David Letterman does. He gets away with it because (a) he’s been around so long that he doesn’t much care if someone doesn’t like the questions he asks them and (b) he usually finds a way to frame such questions in ways that don’t make his guests feel like they’re being interrogated under hot lights.
The "Today" show has been around even longer than Letterman. Surely, the "Today" show could have figured out a way to ask Amy Adams these questions, whether she “agreed” to them or not. What’s she going to do? Walk off the show? And if she did, so what?