Allow me to explain the awkward truth of my man-crush on Kerry O’Brien. There are things in this world that we all too readily take for granted; water, air and the ability to conduct a reasonable interview. Only when these things are taken away from us do we fully appreciate just how good we had it. It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, back before Take That’s first reign of terror and when a grateful nation knew precisely what the phrase ‘Frankie Says Relax’ meant, every media outlet devoted time and resources to proper TV journalism. But like a pair of day-glo leg-warmers, such things have fallen out of fashion. Save for one exception.
Earlier this year, Kerry had the greatest strike rate of any interviewer in the country and watching him toss up the hard questions was a thing of beauty. The resulting struggle as his guests attempted in vain to produce an answer only to look like goldfish on a footpath was endlessly entertaining. It was like seeing a student explaining themselves to the principal. Positions that had once seemed as permanent as something carved into stone tablets on Mount Sinai melted like fairy floss in a rainstorm under Kerry’s steely gaze. At the end of an interview, the most common expression on a subject’s face was one of sheer relief. His studio must have seemed like the Bermuda Triangle – once inside, anything could happen. This year, however, was Kerry’s last on The 7.30 Report.
So why step down? I understand that he plans to work at Four Corners, but that hardly seems enough for someone accustomed to being on the box four nights a week. I don’t know whether he’s planning to spend the rest of his time running a juice bar or a dog grooming service, but the truth is that his country needs him. The problem is not, I think, with Kerry so much as it is with the people he interviews. Put simply, Kerry has continued asking questions, but his subjects have stopped answering them. This madness must end.
It started, as these things tend to do, quite simply. Those being interviewed would ignore the question they had been asked in favour of one they regarded as more important. This went so far as to see some people asking their own questions before setting off in pursuit of an answer by spending as many words as possible in the hope of running the time down. And so what began as a rather subtle attempt to redirect the conversation culminated in an absolute disconnect where journalists were rendered entirely redundant. Too often those being interviewed were allowed to get away with this.
I realise that ‘taser’ use is somewhat controversial, but if ever there’s a case for deploying such a weapon, it is when someone chooses to ask and answer his or her own question. For those who regard current affair interviews to be a little boring, throw a thousand volts into the mix and you’ve got yourself a ratings bonanza. Kerry, sadly, is not the tasering kind.
I’d like to make the case for reconsideration. In short, Kerry shouldn’t leave The 7.30 Report; he should simply try a change in approach. I believe the answer lies not in going away, but in going stark raving mental. Whilst I respect Kerry O’Brien for his even-handed fairness, perhaps the time has come for him to channel what there is of the darker side of his nature. In doing so, he should draw his inspiration from another journalist – Hunter S Thompson.
Hunter S Thompson invented ‘gonzo’ journalism. It’s a slightly misleading term in that it has absolutely nothing to do with a beloved children’s character of the same name, although, like the Muppet, Hunter may well have had romantic feelings for chickens. When despatched to the field to report on a seemingly mundane event, he responded by ingesting what might be described as a ‘who’s who’ of pharmaceuticals and intoxicants to make even driving through the desert seem interesting. Dissatisfied with the incident he was supposed to report on, Hunter made himself the story instead.
In his masterpiece, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Thompson recounts the adventures of the intrepid journalist Raoul Duke and his overweight Samoan attorney, Dr Gonzo. After subjecting himself to the kind of treatment that would make a laboratory rat feel faint, Raoul manages to haul his battered carcass onto a domestic flight. Once seated on the plane, he pulls out a grapefruit and a large hunting knife. Seeing the look of apprehension on the face of the stewardess, he smiles and says, ‘I never go anywhere without a grapefruit.’
Kerry shouldn’t be allowed to leave; it’s too close to saying that the non-answering nitwits have prevailed. He should stay on and take a leaf out of the very entertaining and hugely enjoyable book of Hunter S Thompson. I can see him now – watching as his guest begins to answer a question that nobody has asked – and leaning way, way back in his chair. Tiny beads of perspiration appear as Kerry reaches under the desk and produces a basketball-sized citrus and an even larger hunting knife. The stream of verbiage would trickle to a halt before an awkward pause. Kerry would then smile and say, ‘I never go anywhere without a grapefruit.’