Mediaite Q&A: Fox News’ Martha MacCallum on the Mike Pence Interview That Helped Tank the NoKo Summit
Hours before President Donald Trump penned his letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un cancelling their planned June 12 talks in Singapore, the rogue nation totally blasted Vice President Mike Pence — branding him, in a statement, as a “political dummy.”
“As a person involved in the U.S. affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the U.S. vice-president,” said Choe Son Hui, a vice foreign minister for North Korea (via the Washington Post).
The remarks that drew the ire of the North Koreans were made by Pence in an interview with Martha MacCallum, which aired Monday night. Mediaite asked MacCallum, host of The Story which airs at 7 PM nightly on Fox News, for her take on the interview that played a key role in the cancellation of the Singapore summit.
What’s the secret to interviewing Mike Pence? He’s one of the more difficult interview subjects around — obviously plays things very close to the vest. How do you get him to make the kind of splashy statements he made during Monday’s interview?
I think it’s true that Mike Pence, having been a politician for much longer than President Trump, certainly has a measured way of answering questions. But I also think that he felt strongly about the subject matter when it came to North Korea. The only thing I discussed with his people beforehand was just broadly that we would definitely be touching on North Korea because he was coming out of a meeting with the president at lunch. It was clearly on everyone’s mind and I feel in looking back, he had a very strong statement to make about what we would and wouldn’t tolerate in these negations, and now we know how that played out.
How did you land the interview? And why, in retrospect, do you think the Vice President was chosen to be the messenger on this?
I landed the interview the way I always do, which is by calling and inviting people to come on the show. So for this, I reached out to the vice president’s representatives. I’ve interviewed him several times in the past few years so we have a good working relationship. In terms of discussions with North Korea, in retrospect, I think now we know that things were starting to shift. The State Department folks had gone over to meet in Singapore to try to setup this meeting and the North Koreans never showed up. Clearly they already knew that there were issues with the summit and I think they wanted to make it very clear that they were sticking to their guns about denuclearization and that they were willing to walk away.
The Vice President kind of gave a boilerplate, though firm, response to the first question. Did you get the sense, early on, that he was ready to go further in this interview — as he eventually did — or did you think he’d stick to the company line?
In our line of work you always want to continue to dig deeper into the first answer and I think in that process you figure out how far someone is willing or able to share. When I asked him whether he thought the summit would happen, yes – it was obvious to me that it was very much the topic of conversation at the president’s lunch with the vice president and that they had something that they wanted to impart. I think it was pretty clear as he started to discuss it more that A – total denuclearization was where this summit need to begin and B – the Libya model, which is complete denuclearization, was what they were seeking and that they felt that if that didn’t happen, the other alternatives for Kim Jong Un were not so great.
Which of the vice president’s comments do you think most struck a nerve with the North Koreans? And overall, did you envision your interview making the kind of waves that it clearly did?
I think there were a few things. One of them was that he said that it was their invitation to sit down. That in it of itself didn’t seem that controversial to me but the North Koreans cited that specifically that they felt that wasn’t the way it went. And the president said in his letter it really didn’t matter who initiated the discussion and the invitation for the summit and that it was irrelevant. The other things were clearly the Libya model discussion and the complete denuclearization demand. I think that because of the shifting that was happening with the summit and the sending of this message and looking back at it – it was almost as if the North Koreans were looking for something to hang it on because they were clearly not ready to sit down. I mean, if you don’t show up at the meeting in Singapore to arrange the summit… that’s a pretty big signal that things aren’t necessarily going well.
So, I think the North Koreans in a way used some of the comments by the vice president as a way to demonstrate that things were at an impasse. They called him names and jumped all over what he said when really what he said wasn’t much different from what we’ve been hearing from him and President Trump. It was pretty clear that they were looking for a straw to break the camel’s back, and they found it the Vice President’s unequivocal language.
Do you think this week has played out as the administration imagined? And where do you think things go from here?
Well, we’ll see. I mean now it’s back on the table. The president said they’ve reached out and that the discussions are on again, and even the June 12thdate might hold. Just having watched the president over his presidency and also over his years in business, it kind of is starting to look like a pretty classic negotiation in many ways. He’s always said you have to be able to walk away from the table and you have to be willing to walk away from the table, and that’s what they did. I think China’s role in this first impasse was crucial. The breakdown was well underway when I sat down with the Vice President. The White House now reached a new deal on ZTE, that may have paved the way for the reopening we’re seeing now.
Watch the interview above, via Fox News.
[featured image via screengrab]
Joe DePaolo is a Senior Editor for Mediaite. Follow him on Twitter (@joe_depaolo)
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