Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

About the Jordan-Elbridge Interview

As I expected, there is some criticism of the interview I did with Mary Alley, President of the Jordan-Elbridge School Board.  You can find the interview podcast here

Let me write a few words about the purpose of the interview and the show--not just this particular segment, but also the program more generally.

I am not trying to sort out the tangled trail of what has happened in J-E over the past few months, and I did not approach the guest as a source to do that.  That is the job for a news reporter.  I did not try to get into the specific grounds for what the board has done, though I did want Ms. Alley to explain or confirm why she thought she couldn't discuss those actions--and she did that.  The hypothetical question I asked her about possible futures--should the board's specific grounds for the actions they've taken ultimately be shown to make sense--was to elicit her sense of the level of damage to the community that has been done to this point.  I did not suggest--and did not intend to suggest--a position on whether the principal or treasurer or anyone else should have been fired. 

I invited her on the program because she is an elected official at the center of this controversy, who could speak directly about the effects on the community, about what she thought the board could and should have done differently in dealing with the controversy, and about the experience she's had in all this as an elected, volunteer official.  The point of the interview extended beyond the specific facts of the J-E board actions to the nature of our political life.  The overall approach toward the interview was to create a civil, rational conversation.

I do not bring guests on the program to badger them or to argue with them, but rather to draw them out and elicit their views.  This opens the program up to criticisms of being too sympathetic to the guests when the guests are controversial, and this criticism cuts across the ideological spectrum.  Thus, I have heard similar comments after interviewing Eliot Spitzer and a Left-wing member of the British Parliament on the one hand, and Ann Marie Buerkle and local leaders of the Tea Party on the other.  The emotions are higher in the J-E case, and so the comments are more sharply edged--I understand that.

Here is an alternative standard I'd suggest to evaluate this interview--was there new information and some additional understanding provided?  Since no one from the board has yet spoken to the media in this way, I'd say the answer to this question would have to be yes.  Bringing this guest in to ask the kinds of "tough questions" that some have suggested to me would have resulted in no interview at all.  And note that I did ask her why she's waited until now to speak, what the board should have done differently, why they haven't communicated the grounds of their actions, and why they've apparently moved toward less public comments since the fall.

Here's a final consideration:  Members of the community have had numerous opportunities to voice their anger to each other directly, and through the media to the broader community and the greater Syracuse area.  And they've been taking advantage of these opportunities.  I heard two hours of them at the meeting in October.  They have been in the Post-Standard every week.  This was the first time that anyone has heard from someone on the board in any kind of extended format.  I think on balance the dial was moved in a positive direction by the interview, however slightly.

--Grant Reeher


Unknown said...

You can't believe that by allowing people to openly lie on your show that you are providing any service to the public. It is one thing to be non-confrontational, but a another to allow a forum lies to be propagated.
You let Mrs. Alley blame the media for what has happened. The media didn't file false affidavits with the NY Supreme court, she did. To treat her as a respected community leader, when the truth is she has acted in an illegal manner reduces your credibility.
A School Board must remain above reproach. This board by hiring it's cousin as Interim Associate Principal, and paying it's boyfriend as School Attorney, has lost the trust of the community. The only right thing for this board to do is resign. Then the community can start to heal.

Grant Reeher said...


I think calling the entire conversation a forum [for] lies illustrates the problem the community is having. I'd encourage you to rethink that approach.

And for the record, she didn't blame the media for what has happened; instead she said it added to the damage by "fanning the flames." That seems like a reasonable observation to me, though one might disagree. She placed a lot of blame on the board for the way it has interacted with the community. I point these things out not to defend her or the board, but to note what was actually said in the interview.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your comments and agree with some of them re my saying you were too sympathetic. Specifically, and what I meant by leading question, was at the beginning of the interview when you were setting the scene for what has gone on, without going into great detail. You, not Mrs. Alley, were the one who said that she couldn't talk about what the board knew and how frustrating that was. You posed that as a question that had a yes or no answer (and of course she answered yes). That is what I thought gave the board more credibility than it may deserve, because it came from you rather than her. So perhaps a more open-ended question would be better.

Grant Reeher said...


Fair enough about the beginning material. You're right, I was essentially trying to get some preliminaries out of the way--for those listeners who were entirely unfamiliar with what's been going on. I wanted to save the time for the actual open-ended questions I wanted to ask. If you get a chance listen to the podcast to get the full flavor of what comes next.