December 5th, 2010
09:00 AM ET

Letters to the President: #685 'Listen. Did you hear that?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

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.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Rex H. Thompson

    we should push for term limits for the house and senate then they wont get so fat with their pork barrel spending habits

    December 15, 2010 at 1:27 am |
  2. alice

    He was stuck between hard place and rock... glad to see he put aside politics for the Americans who really need him now. Shame on those republicans.

    December 6, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  3. P T Northrop

    Re US Budgets & Defecits all that we hear regarding where to cut it is Medicare,Social Security, Medicaid,Defense, But nothing about cutting the giant give aways to foreign countries that may or not like us or support us. It seems Congress should take care of the people who voted for them fist.

    December 6, 2010 at 8:57 am |
  4. Regina Harris

    I am not sure what people are wanting from this President. Out of one side of their mouth, they claim he doesn't listen enough and from the other he listens too much. I say, "do what you know is the right and best thing to do in spite of what others are saying, quit second-guessing your decisions.'

    December 5, 2010 at 10:33 am |

Post a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.