Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama is a great speaker, and we always make a big fuss about presidents with that skill. I’m wondering in today’s letter, however, if we should be focusing more on the skill of listening.
Dear Mr. President,
Larry King, as you probably know, is bringing down the curtain on his longstanding interview show here at CNN, and we’re going to miss him. The last time I saw him at one of those big dinners where you were speaking, Larry passed me in the crowd, smiled ear to ear and reached up to pat my cheek as if I were ten years old. It was charming.
Isn’t it interesting to think that someone could make such a career out of simply talking with people? Notice I said talking “with” not “to.” It’s a crucial difference. Any numbskull can natter away at someone else. Heck, just look at all these letters. Ha!
Talking “with” people, however, requires a special touch My old colleague and a man I respect terrifically, Ted Koppel, taught me one of the most important lessons of my career: The secret to good interviews lies not in talking, but in listening.
Throwing out clever questions shows how much you know, but only by listening can you learn what the other guy knows. Only by listening can you understand his position with all its strengths and weaknesses. Only by listening can we find out what we need to refine and reinforce in our own stance.
Back in his very best days on “Nightline”, Ted would allow some preening senator to chat away for what seemed like forever, building an elaborate edifice of half-truths, weak logic, and sometimes full-on lies. Then came the turnaround. Ted would sharpen one razor tipped question on all those false words he’d patiently listened to, and then he’d fire it right through the guy’s heart. It was brilliant.
It appears you are entering a period of having to talk a lot with your Democratic pals and your Republican opponents, and I suspect you’ll be tempted to say many things. I’ll tell you what I’d suggest to any president. You can talk whenever you wish. Listening is something you’ll have to make yourself do, but the rewards for doing so are much, much greater.
Kind of cold this weekend, don’t you think? Getting in some long runs and you can bet I am bundling up for those first couple of miles. I may try to hang up the big wreath on the peak of the house this evening. You want to help? Give a buzz if you can.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with