How not to hunt a tiger
One of the reasons people like Christopher Hitchens do so well in talk show interviews is that they are utterly unintimidated by media personalities. Not that they'll get up and throw a chair at their interviewer, which has happened on some occasions on the cheesier shows, but that they'll verbally reach out and pull their interlocutors ideas out of the speech bubble, twist them into pretzels and hand them back for the whole audience to see. After this treatment , their interviewers, who are normally accustomed to controlling the discussion by and by find themselves, in spite of everything, on the wrong end of the microphone. Here's Christopher Hitchens being grilled by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Tony Jones. (Hat tip: Tim Blair)
The interview starts with a soft setup for a spike over the net, except Hitchens reads the play and hammers it back so fast that the serve changes sides.
TONY JONES: It seems that the United States, and much of the Western world, is still learning the lessons of 9/11. After reflecting on this for five years now, what did we get right and what did we get wrong?
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mmm. Well I think we found out that we were at war, which was better than being at war and not knowing it, which was the case until five years and about five minutes ago. Until five years and five minutes ago, for example, we didn't know the name AQ Khan. We didn't know that Pakistan was being Talibanised from within, that there were al-Qaeda sympathisers in its nuclear program - and we weren't doing anything about that either. We didn't know, incidentally, that international black market of rogue states: North Korea, Libya and Iran, linked by AQ Khan and exchanging nuclear and other technologies, formed the corners of the box in which we thought had Saddam Hussein. When people talk about the box he was in, that box included AQ Khan and the North Koreans and the nuclear black market. So that goes also partly to the point that keeps coming up of whether or not we are safer. I always think that's a contemptible question. Not just because it can't be answered, but because it seems to demand that our governments exist to give us a sense of security, rather than a sense of our duties in the case of a war. ...
Plan B is an appeal to authority against which Hitchens will vainly dash himself to pieces. Except that Hitchens drops the authority over the cliff, but not before hooking his interviewer to the plummeting mass.
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Mr Clarke, I should add, since this is apparently the 'Richard Clarke Show' was the leading ornament of the Clinton Administration that utterly failed to confront bin Laden at all. Mr Clarke was also the man who said when his government, his president, ordered the bombing of Sudan without even calling for an inspection of the relevant sites, or consulting the UN in the least, probably hitting the wrong factory, chemical factory, but the pretext for that, if you remember, is that Osama bin Laden owned that factory and that it was mixing chemical weaponry for Saddam Hussein. So Mr Clarke made the Saddam-bin Laden connection before anybody else did. I'm afraid to say, since you keep asking my opinion of him, I think what he says now is the result of partisanship. He would not be making these criticisms if he was on the inside and I think it's shabby that people will put their party first on these occasions. But Mr Clarke is the source of a lot of useful information. And if what he says, or alleges, is true about the Saddam-al-Qaeda connection then it would be impeachably delinquent of any government attacked on American soil with such massive force, not to ask is there a Saddam Hussein role in this? Because the likelihood that there could be would have to be very high? To say let's not think about Saddam, which is the only alternative, would be absolutely pathetic.
TONY JONES: Alright, let's go beyond Richard Clarke and...
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: Are you sure you want to do this?
TONY JONES: Yes, of course. And we'll go to the...
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: It's like letting go of your blanket.
Mr. Jones gamely keeps trying to the end, but they are blows without force and by the end he drops all pretense of being anything else than a partisan for one side, because Hitchens has left him with no ability to argue the middle. It's an amazing technical demonstration; but no one who doesn't command the topic or the language should try such a high wire interviewing style.