Panel Nerds: Tony Blair’s No Foreigner


nerdzWho: Tony Blair, interviewed by Katie Couric
What: “Tony Blair in Conversation with Katie Couric
Where: 92nd Street Y
When: September 14, 2010
: Up

Katie Couric opted to go easy on Tony Blair at the beginning, easing him into the more hard-hitting questions about foreign affairs in the Middle East and Europe. Blair responded to questions about his reflections, writing process, and intentions for his new autobiography. He revealed that he wanted the book to be more “personal” than others in the genre that he admits he’s found “easy to put down.” His approach has seemed to have paid off, as the book’s breaking British sales records. But you’d expect no less than candidness from the controversial former prime minister.

The book, Blair says, bounces around to different topics and sections and, unlike other autobiographies, doesn’t stick to a chronological script. Couric dealt Blair a series of questions in much the same way, peppering him with subjects or names and asking him to respond with his thoughts on them. In the 75 or so minutes, Blair covered a wide spread of topics, but it was his comments about the state of politics that resonated most with us. He said that a strange phenomenon has turned up in global politics: As politicians are becoming more and more partisan and extreme, citizens are becoming more moderate.

His biggest opponents are perhaps those who decry his role in the Iraq War. Blair believes it all could have been avoided had Saddam Hussein agreed to inspections. He stopped short of saying that the war was justified – many of his answers began with “Look…” and a pause to find composure and a careful selection of words – but did say that 9/11 changed his view of Saddam, regardless of whether he could be tied to al Qaeda or not. Blair compared the situation then to what America now faces with Iran, where a faction of people trying to destabilize the country and opposing modernity. He said that the world must counteract the notion that the West threatens Islamic beliefs. Blair says that even though it’s only a small percentage of Muslims who fight back, the narrative is widespread.

He also believes that both Israel and the Palestinians truly want peace. He says that he remains an incurable optimist after all this time.

What They Said
“Those who shout the loudest don’t necessarily deserve to be heard the most.”
– Tony Blair dealt with this firsthand as he faced down a disruptive protester proclaiming him a “war criminal”

“I think what we have to say is ‘Don’t be ridiculous – this guy doesn’t represent America.”
– Tony Blair says that Terry Jones’ planned Koran-burning protest got too much attention

“You can’t take the view that we all have equal rights if you then discriminate.”
– Tony Blair shares his thoughts on the ongoing “Ground Zero mosque” debate

“Your faith can give you the strength to do the right thing; unfortunately, it won’t tell you what the right thing is.”
Tony Blair talks about his conversation to Roman Catholicism

What We Thought

  • Couric came in with a long and impressive list of topics to tackle with the former prime minister. She was able to hit them all by focusing the discussion and moving on when necessary. We agreed with this approach since the audience wanted to hear him weigh in on a variety of issues.
  • We’re impressed that the Guardian determined this event was such an attraction it decided to liveblog the telecast of it. If the situation were reversed, we don’t think The New York Times would as tightly cover the president’s discussion with a British correspondent.
  • Blair has a great sense of humor. He laughed about how he immediately lost his stature and status as prime minister once he left office, unlike in America where politicians retain their titles. And when Couric asked him if he “tweets,” Blair remarked, “not intentionally.”

Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…Bluffing Interviewers
Couric allotted a sizable amount of time to audience questions, including those from affiliates around the world tuned in. After handing over the inquiring for three questions, Couric asked an additional five short ones of her own just to get Blair to chime in on important topics like the Queen, Princess Diana, and Gordon Brown. Then two more audience questions filled out the night. Ordinarily, we wouldn’t have a problem with the questions Couric posed, but she’d already ceded the microphone to the viewers. Once that handoff takes place, we believe it shouldn’t be reversed. It interrupted a series of good questions from the worldwide audience (including revelations that Paul is Blair’s favorite Beatle) and cut out of their time.

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