Backstory: the reporter who interviewed Akin

The Jaco Report reconsiders the moment

As transitions go, it was pretty jagged, a classic of the “moving right along” category. Answering a question about abortion in the case of rape, Todd Akin, the 65-year Missouri congressman and current candidate for the US Senate, says:

First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it is a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that doesn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment. But the punishment ought to be on the rapist, and not attacking the child.

His interviewer, Charles Jaco, replies:

Let’s go to the economy, and obviously with Paul Ryan as the number two man on the ticket…..

Hmm. Really? Jaco wishes he had followed up, perhaps with something like, ‘Uh, doctors told you that?’ But he didn’t. Nor did he request a definition of “legitimate.”

And he’s not beating himself up too badly about it. “I fucked up,” Jaco says. “I wasn’t present in the moment.” Still, for the overall interview—all 18 minutes of it—he gives himself a B+ or, in Olympic terms, an 8.5. And he’s moving on.

“This is not my first time to the circus,” Jaco points out. He worked for CNN and NBC Network Radio after graduating from, yes, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, in 1976. He has worked as reporter and writer for KTVI Fox 2 in St. Louis for a number of years, and hosts the thirty-minute Jaco Report there every Saturday. His bio on the Fox 2 website lists three Peabody and two Edward R. Murrow awards, as well as others, and he’s written a couple of news-related books, Guide to the Gulf War and Guide to the Politics of Oil, as well as a couple of beach-book-style novels (Dead Air and Live Shot).

What was he thinking when Representative Akin said what he said?

“That I was 14 minutes in—the producer had just whispered that I had three and a half minutes left—and I hadn’t yet got to the economy.” Jaco notes that his colleagues missed it too. And, he believes, so did Akin’s opponent, Senator Claire McCaskill, at least at first. Jaco says he spoke to her after the Akin interview and she didn’t mention the rape stuff.

Jaco says he has interviewed Akin maybe ten times, and has had a good relationship with him. “Congressman Akin knows I am not a fan of his politics,” Jaco says, “but on a personal level, I like him. I’d let him babysit my daughter.” Akin has sons, Jaco points out, who have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Jaco’s familiarity with some of Akin’s more extreme statements, the reporter says, may be another reason that he missed the rape-and-abortion moment. Jaco admits he has grown somewhat numb to what some Missouri journalists call “Akinisms.” In fact, by the time in the Tuesday interview that they got to rape and abortion, Akin had already voiced a couple of opinions that would tend to raise eyebrows.

He ventured that it might be time to revisit the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the civil rights-era law that outlawed literacy tests and other barriers to voting, particularly in the South—“I thought at the time that might be the lede of the story,” Jaco says—as well as the notion that it might be time to reconsider the 17th Amendment. That idea has gained traction among some Tea Party people; repealing the amendment would take the choice of US Senators out of the hands of voters and give it back to state legislatures.

Jaco didn’t push back particularly hard on those two Akinisms either. He seems to be the kind of reporter who asks good, well considered questions and, for the most part, then lets guests have their say about them. “I just sell them the rope,” he says. “If they want to go hang themselves….”

On the other hand, the rare program that can devote a half hour (or 21 minutes or so after the ads) to a single subject is one that has a better shot at moving beyond sound bites and practiced talking points. “This is not television for people with ADD,” Jaco says. He often splits the time among multiple guests, but thought that in a significant Senate race like this one, it might be good to give Akin the whole program and hope for some valuable insights. He was right.

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing. Tags: , , , ,