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Confessions of a Media Man

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By Anne Burke

Published Jul 1, 2006 12:00 AM


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As a journalist, Tom Plate is part ego-tamer, part funnyman and part grand inquisitor. When not teaching communication studies at UCLA, the adjunct professor trots the globe interviewing presidents, prime ministers, and other obfuscators and truth-varnishers for "Pacific Perspectives," his twice-weekly newspaper column on Asian geopolitics and culture.

Syndicated by the UCLA Media Center, "Pacific Perspectives" goes out to millions of newspaper readers in Asia and the United States. Plate has led the editorial pages at the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday and the late Los Angeles Herald Examiner, and worked at Time, CBS and New York magazine. A gifted storyteller, Plate will spill all about his interviews with the high and mighty in his autobiography, Confessions of an American Media Man, due out next year from Marshall Cavendish Editions.

We asked the professor-columnist to tell us about his 10 toughest interviews. See if you can match the world leader with Plate's description.

1. Tony Blair,
U.K., prime minister

2. Chen Shui-Ben,
Taiwan, president

3. Bill Clinton,
U.S.A., ex-president

4. Lee Kuan Yew,
Singapore, ex-prime minister

5. Kim Dae-Jung,
Korea, ex-prime minister

6. Junichiro Koizumi,
Japan, prime minister

7. Benazir Bhutto,
Pakistan, ex-prime minister

8. Mahathir Mohammad,
Malaysia, ex-prime minister

9. Ronald Reagan,
U.S.A., ex-president

10. Tung Chee-Hwa,
Hong Kong, founding chief executive

a. Easier to get the Vatican to anoint female priests than to get him on the record.

b. Interviewable only if you start off by making a joke about American foreign policy.

c. Avoid dumb questions when interviewing the founder of this island nation. His look can shrink you to the size of a mothball.

d. A South Asian Savonarola with the fiery beauty of Maria Callas but the evasiveness of a PR pro.

e. Great hair, great flair. To get beyond stock answers, I had to ask this well-known bachelor a question about Viagra.

f. Very slick. Trying to pin him down made me feel like a rodeo cowboy trying to wrestle a very smart steer to the ground.

g. He'd wrap wit and warmth around the silliest piece of policy, like bacon around a turkey dog, and make you love to eat it.

h. I couldn't get his attention until I put my arm around a pretty lady journalist and asked if he would pose for a picture with her. Then he wouldn't stop talking.

i. This Nobel Peace Prize winner is tremendously witty but rarely reveals his funny side in public.

j. A very guarded and bland style that hides the independence firecracker inside his soul.

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