There is "tough love" and then there is "tough media."
"Tough media" came out of the television business when TV interviewers discovered it was more profitable to rough up their guests than to treat them with kindness.
Marco Polo, a local anchorman, told me why "tough media" is now the rule of broadcasting rather than the exception.
"If you treat the person you're interviewing with politeness everyone will think you're rolling over for him like a pet dog. People want to see their politicians pinned to the wall, particularly during an election year."
"How do you do that?"
"You ask the tough questions such as, 'Senator, have you ever committed adultery?' "
"What if he says no?"
"Then you ask, 'Has your church minister ever committed adultery?' "
"That could be a hard one," I admitted.
"You have to let your subject know who is in charge on your show. Let's say you ask him, 'How do you feel about the Panama Canal?' and he replies, 'Lousy.' Then it's your turn to zero in on him and say, 'You didn't say that in Des Moines during the debate. In Des Moines you said, and I quote, "I'm sick of the Panama Canal." Now which is it -- lousy or sick?' And then he replies, 'Some days I feel lousy about the canal and other days I feel sick about it.' "
"Either way, you've got him," I said.
"Sometimes I'll get a long-winded candidate who wants to talk about the deficit when I want to talk about his wife's charge account at Lord & Taylor. As soon as he brings up the deficit I warn him he only has 10 seconds to explain it and then we're going to a commercial. This usually gets him so nervous he forgets what he was talking about."
"That is tough."
"TV was not invented for explaining deficits. My job is to give the program a flow. That's why my questions are never too profound. I'm thinking of the little guy sitting in his lounger drinking a wine cooler who couldn't care less who starts World War III. He wants to know if the next man in the White House is going to stop the planes flying over his house."
"Who are your best guests?"
"I like to book TV evangelicals on the show. They are really good because they come up with stuff no one else dreams of. They know about Soviet missiles in Cuba, hostages in Lebanon and Jimmy Swaggart's battle with the Devil in New Orleans. The audiences eat it up."
"So you never shut one of them off?"
"Not as long as he has a beer barrel rolling around in his head. You have to understand what tough television is all about. It first started with Ted Koppel, who told his guests he didn't understand what they were talking about. Then the network anchormen picked it up, followed by Sam Donaldson, followed by local anchormen and women. Women are still softer on their subjects out of respect for Barbara Walters, who never talks tough because she is a lady. But we TV interviewers are not going to be pushed around by anybody because they're our cameras and we paid for them."
"Do you get as much out of the interview if you're tough?"
"No, but my subject does. The printed press portrays me as a first-class stinker."
"Does this bother you?"
"I'd rather go to a black screen for eight minutes than toss someone a softball question."