Saturday 18 November 2017

Review: Hillary Clinton's Late Late Show interview - 'It wasn't flawless, but RTE made the right decision sending Tubs'

Hillary Clinton and Ryan Tubridy
Hillary Clinton and Ryan Tubridy
Ed Power

Ed Power

A face-to-face interview with Hillary Clinton was unquestionably a coup for RTE – but there were fears Montrose had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by dispatching Ryan Tubridy to conduct the grilling.

The Late Late Show host is an accomplished light entertainer – good at froth, in his element when clowning with z-listers.

But even his most ardent fans – which presumably includes senior ranks at the state broadcaster – would admit that the very sharpest edge of politics and current affairs are slightly beyond his comfort zone. He’s a charmer – not an inquisitor.

So there were misgivings. Of all the journalists and presenters in Ireland given a chance to sit down with the woman who was almost US President as she published her account of the election – did it have to be "Tubs"?

As Clinton was led into the room at her home in Chappaqua, New York, it indeed felt RTE had made one of its characteristic miscalculations. With middle age creeping up, Tubridy increasingly resembles a stretch toy in human form.

This gawkiness was exacerbated here by his choice of suit – in the wrong formal wear Tubridy will forever be a 12 year old wondering in which pocket he should stash his confirmation money – and an opening line of bland questions about Hillary’s love of Ireland.

But just when it seemed Tubs had flubbed he reversed direction and put in one of his more admirable shifts to date.

He delicately coaxed from Clinton her recollections of losing the election – and landed a genuine scoop with her reveal that she and her team had prepared for the possibility of Donald Trump physically intimidating her during one of the televised debates (a nugget she had left out of her memoir, What Happened).

Here it became clear that, far from dropping the round spherical object, RTE had made the correct call in sending Tubridy to Chappaqua. Where other interviewers would surely have gone "full Paxman" and lunged in he was genuinely empathic towards Hillary and she, in turn, appreciated the basic humanity (no doubt in short supply in her interactions with the American media).

An absence of "gotcha" queries went down well too. As the minutes ticked by Clinton segued from imposing political figure to slightly wacky grandma – a humanising transformation for which Tubridy must be given credit.

It wasn’t an entirely flawless turn on his behalf. As with many Irish broadcasters, erudition can occasionally stumble into babbling so that questions go on far longer than they need to.

But he sat down with Hillary without an agenda and was genuinely curious about her experiences and her insights. Those who had feared a half hour of gawky flattery were proved to have underestimated the host. A lot is still wrong with the Late Late Show – but, with the pressure  on, Tubridy rose admirably to the occasion.

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