“Concerning the ‘Interview,'” a previously unpublished essay written by Mark Twain in 1889 or 1890, debuted on the PBS NewsHour Web site Wednesday night following a reading on the show by Robert Hirst, general editor of the Mark Twain Project at the University of California, Berkeley.
Wednesday’s installment of NewsHour also featured a report by correspondent Spencer Michels on the publishing of Twain’s autobiography later this year.
The essay features Twain tearing into the style of questioning from journalists back at the time when yellow journalism was spreading like wildfire, and he compared reporters with a cyclone “which comes with the gracious purpose of cooling off a sweltering village and is not aware afterward that it has done that village anything but a favor.”
NewsHour Extra also featured a lesson plan for teachers.
One particularly poignant passage from “Concerning the ‘Interview,'” courtesy of PBS NewsHour:
Yes, you are afraid of the interviewer, and that is not an inspiration. You close your shell; you put yourself on your guard; you try to be colorless; you try to be crafty, and talk all around a matter without saying anything: and when you see it in print, it makes you sick to see how well you succeeded. All the time, at every new change of question, you are alert to detect what it is the interviewer is driving at now, and circumvent him. Especially if you catch him trying to trick you into saying humorous things. And in truth that is what he is always trying to do. He shows it so plainly, works for it so openly and shamelessly, that his very first effort closes up that reservoir, and his next one caulks it tight. I do not suppose that a really humorous thing was ever said to an interviewer since the invention of his uncanny trade. Yet he must have something “characteristic;” so he invents the humorisms himself, and interlards them when he writes up his interview. They are always extravagant, often too wordy, and generally framed in “dialect” — a non-existent and impossible dialect at that. This treatment has destroyed many a humorist. But that is no merit in the interviewer, because he didn’t intend to do it.