On Tuesday night’s “Daily Show,” Jon Stewart used a clip of Geraldo Rivera’s recent Taliban interview as a kickoff for a new segment called “Hey, That Guy Lives There.” As in, “Hey, Don’t Make That Translator Say That Terrible Thing, He Has To Keep Living In This Community After You And Your Cameras Leave.”
Rivera, reporting from the dusty streets of Kabul, got an exclusive interview with a Taliban spokesman, with interpretation provided by Afghan producer Akbar Shinwari. A scoop for “Geraldo At Large,” but on-camera cell-phone interviews don’t exactly make for gripping television viewing. But this is Geraldo at large, in search of “editorial salvation.” Rivera is the guy who reported for two hours live on a special about an empty basement alleged to have been used by Al Capone.
Reporting on consecutively interpreted phone conversations is probably the only thing less interesting than opening empty basements for live TV. With the back and forth of consecutive interpretation, everything takes 2.5x longer, and no chance to trim quotes to fit viewer’s atrophied attention spans. So it was on the news team to make a lame interview into news.
Kick-off question Rivera asks Shinwari to translate: “Ask him how it feels to get his ass kicked.” This prompts a long answer. Since the Taliban media trainers apparently neglected to brief their spokesman with pre-prepared seven-word sound bites, he goes on and on. Shinwari interrupts with a quick English summary. Geraldo follows up with, “You got 17 of your dudes killed, what did you accomplish?”
As the man started to reply, Rivera interjected, “He’s making a speech. It’s propaganda.” The best part was when Rivera referred to the spokesman as a “jerk-off.” Another day at the newsroom, and 1:49 minutes of airtime filled, but John Stewart wonders at the consequences for the messenger bearing the attack interview.
“Daily Show” producers added their own interpretation of what they imagined Shinwari was really saying, a “loose” translation by the kind of guy who has to stay on good terms with the neighbors. Very funny, and also a reminder of the dangers faced by conflict-zone interpreters, the guys who have to keep living there.