It’s an unfortunate reality of mainstream media that television talk show hosts who have access to big name politicians often disappoint by asking softball questions. And so the other week, when Wolf Blitzer queried Dick Cheney about his lesbian daughter, the news establishment was less surprised at Cheney’s response — steam from the ears, a Medusa-like gaze — than the fact that Blitzer tried to face off against
Darth Vader Uncle Fester the vice president. We’re so accustomed to spin that the existence of a non-spun moment is, in itself, big news.
So it’s no wonder of profundity that videobloggers who have devoted themselves to unscripted explorations of political issues are beginning to attract a lot of attention. The preeminent example in this category is, of course, Alive in Baghdad, which recently won a Vloggie for its long-form interviews with Iraqi citizens. But if you’re looking for a stateside vlog that covers both the war and current trends in media, you should direct your browser to American Microphone with Robert Millis.
“Most interviews on TV, even long ones, just hit the talking points,” Millis told me over coffee at Pecan in Manhattan. “I’m more interested…in the stuff behind the spin.”
For Millis, a 32-year-old investor in Manhattan, the stuff beyond the spin includes interviews with Iraqi veterans who have had trouble getting their voices heard in mainstream media. Over the last seven months, Millis has interviewed several former soldiers, including Marine major-cum-Slate reporter Owen West; Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; and former senator (and Navy SEAL) Bob Kerrey, just to name a few.
Each interview is about thirty minutes long, and Millis allows each of them time to explain in-depth, say, the reasons American forces will be in Iraq until 2014. Or, a behind-the-scenes story of why training Iraqis is an exercise in futility. Millis has also been branching out into media topics as well. He recently interviewed media law maven Colette Vogele. His next interview, slated for early February, will feature Rocketboom’s Andrew Baron and Joanne Colan.
Millis is a political junkie who reads ABC’s The Note for fun. And while he isn’t a polished interviewer — he opened his segment with Bob Kerrey with a question about a girlfriend from the 80s — he’s obviously well-informed about the war and U.S. news. The interviews could also benefit from some editing and structure, something that Millis admits and for which he’s recently hired a producer.
Despite these easily remedied issues, American Microphone gives the impression of a professional production. The interviews are gorgeously filmed with three Sony HDVs in a custom studio in Millis’ Soho
apartment studio, and the Web site is cleanly designed, albeit in Flash. Millis has had a few discussion with advertisers (blip.tv hosts his videos), and plans to have more as he ramps up to go full-time with the vlog — “Hopefully, ideally,” he said — in April. (Update: Millis and his producer write in to say the show is produced at a commercial loft, not his apartment.)
The vlog starts up again in earnest this month. Check it out!
Steve Bryant is a New York-based writer. His work can also be found on the Reel Pop blog.