John Oliver Hilariously Explores How '60 Minutes' Gets Its Perfect Soundbites
News, like nature, is in a state of constant flux — and yet there remain some constants. One, as pointed out by John Oliver is 60 Minutes' uncanny ability to elicit soundbites from those they interview. Oliver's team first documented the phenomenon in September 2014. Correspondents as varied as Steve Kroft, Scott Pelley, and the late Morley Safer performed some interview magic soliciting truly quotable material. Now, a midterm election, an insane primary season, and two seasons of American Idol later, not much has changed. The 60 Minutes team does what it must to ensure its interviews can be summed up during the next commercial break.
The way it works is fairly simple. Despite the show's name, 60 Minutes is not its focus when it comes to the hands on a clock. It's all about the 5-second sound bite. That can be frustrating if the interviewee is not ready with quips and anecdotes. Therefore the venerated journalists — among them Rita Braver, Sanjay Gupta, and Anderson Cooper — help a bit. They coax it out the sound bite by playing a verbal game of Simon Says.
Take Bill Whitaker's interview with Jim Dinkins, the former head of Homeland Security investigations, on Joaquin Guzman, aka the Mexican drug lord El Chapo. Dinkins explains the intricacies of his escape through a mile-long tunnel under a high-security prison. They talked the about the engineering required to dig the required but evidently it wasn't quite the summary they were looking for. "A notorious tunnel manufacturer," Dinkins begins. But then Whitaker cuts him off. "The tunnel king," Whitaker suggests. Dinkins parrots back, "The tunnel king."
But this is just one of dozens of examples. Charlie Rose offers "Not without controversy" to Senn Penn in an interview about Penn's El Chapo Interview. "Not without controversy," Penn shoots right back at him.
It's not just stories on drug kingpins that need the perfect soundbite, though. Take Clarissa Ward's piece on South African lions. She interviews Chris Mercer on lion hunters. Mercer explains his take on them: "Oh, there's no skill involved at all. It's not hunting at all. Your canned lion hunter is actually a collector. He's not a hunter." "He's a collector of trophies," Ward offers up. "A collector of trophies," Mercer agrees.
Other small phrases, like "dirty money," "bad actors," "both are false," "not the varsity team," and "East German secret police," all made it into pieces at the behest of the 60 Minutes contributors.
So, in summary, as you'd hear it on the award-winning CBS news program: That's what happened? That's what happened. Just like that; just like that.