The Most Important Question I Ask

I often find the best rules of thumb for life go hand-in-hand with the best rules for writing and editing. In this case, a parenting tactic is one of the strategies that has wide-reaching applications at the end of an interview.

“Do you have anything else you want to tell me?”

While this may have been used as a shame tactic on teens forming lies of omission (not saying it was used on me, not saying it wasn’t), in an interview with a source I use it as a catchall. Usually the answer amounts to not much–“No, I think we’ve pretty much covered it”–or a PR pitch that I didn’t need. But the few times it’s come in handy it doesn’t just serve as a CYA policy, but given the story the most important facets and details. When a longer interview goes well, a source warms up and might be willing to share something they hadn’t thought of or been willing to at the beginning of the conversation, particularly for cold calls.

For Pearl Harbor survivor Will Lehner’s story, the most important piece of the puzzle didn’t appear until I asked that question, thinking the conversation was wrapping up–not only starting. His ship sank a Japanese submarine about an hour before the attack, and for years, it wasn’t on record. Few would believe him or his fellow sailors. It wasn’t until 2000 he went with a team led by Bob Ballard (the guy who found the Titanic) to search for the sub, and not until 2002 with another research team that it was uncovered and his story “checked out,” gumshoes. Little old me? I didn’t know any of that until after we had talked about Indiana, driving (the next time he’ll need to renew his license he’ll be 103) and his post-military career.

Click here to read how Lehner’s incredible story was stitched neatly into a full circle over six decades.

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