When Irish journalist Carole Coleman first came to prominence in the U.S. in 2004 it was for her spirited face-to-face interview for Irish state broadcaster RTE TV with President George W. Bush on the eve of his visit to Ireland. Coleman's go-for-broke style was, she says, the result of the short 10-minute slot she had been given, but Bush looked like he'd just been steamrolled by his interviewer's pointed questions on the Iraq war. Not surprisingly the interview - possibly the most contentious one of Bush's career - made international headlines the day it was broadcast. In fact, the Bush administration was so stung that representatives actually called the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. to complain. If the White House was expecting a polite doormat they were gravely mistaken. Coleman says what she means and she means what she says. This is usually considered to be a strength in a journalist, but politicians take a different view when the questions start cutting a little too close to the bone. "The newspapers did go to town on my interview with Bush," Coleman told the Irish Voice by phone during an interview this week. "At the time I almost felt like slapping him. It was the way he was stalling me, and avoiding answering direct questions. "The thing is, these were all questions that had been approved ahead of time. I wasn't blindsiding him with outrageous new questions." Coleman watched the new "Frost/Nixon" movie recently and she realized that what she was seeing was exactly how she felt in her own interview with Bush. When celebrity host David Frost interviewed the ever-evasive Richard Nixon, what followed was a fascinating game of cat and mouse that held the nation spellbound. "The knowledge that time was ebbing away and I wasn't getting anything insightful in the first few minutes made me relate to that film. That just-get-to-the-truth dynamic led to the sharp exchange that happened between us," she says. Coleman's interview with Bush was variously described in the media as "a hijack," "a master class" and "a citizen's arrest." Although for Coleman it now feels like going over old ground her intent was clear - she wanted to discover if Bush could see another side to aims and ambitions that led to the Iraq war. The answer was no. On the day she interviewed him 100 people, including three U.S. soldiers, were killed there. "The majority of the Irish public, as far as I could tell, was angry with Bush and did not want to hear a cozy fireside chat in the middle of the most disputed war since Vietnam. Instead of the kid-glove start, I would get down to business," Coleman added. Coleman hails from Carrick-on-Shannon in Co. Leitrim, which explains her famously forthright manner. She first came to the U.S. in the late eighties when jobs in the media were more plentiful. Eventually she was hired by RTE and her career took flight. Considering her long standing engagement with U.S. foreign policy and her interest in national politics, Coleman's latest book "The Battle for the White House . . . and the Soul of America" was a natural progression. Working for RTE, she often found herself reporting from inside the 2008 presidential race. Writing a book about one of the most dramatic campaigns in political history was inevitable. "I was working for 'Prime Time', an Irish current affairs program, in 2007. At the time most of us thought that Hillary Clinton would eventually become the Democratic candidate. At that time I also got to meet Barack Obama, and I couldn't help but be impressed by him," Coleman recalls. "I remember thinking this guy is going to give her a run for her money. But I wasn't thinking he was going to be president. I followed both campaigns closely and eventually I figured, 'Hey this is history, so why not write it down?' "If it's going to be like the Kennedy story where in 50 years time people are still talking about it, maybe it will be the same with this election. If you're looking for a book about how it all went down this is a nice book to have on your shelf." Coleman started writing her book in June 2008, going over her notes and interviews. The Iowa caucuses, she says, was the game changer in regard to Clinton and Obama. "When you look back with hindsight it's easy to see that Hillary Clinton never got it back after the Iowa caucuses. But when you are actually on the road following it, it didn't become clear until after Super Tuesday," Coleman says. "She wasn't managing to win the momentum back from him. She started shifting her tactics, but it was becoming clear she didn't know how to contain this phenomenon." If you look at the actual numbers, Coleman says, Obama was only a couple of hundred delegates ahead of Clinton. There was always the chance that something dramatic might happen, and that's why it remained such a fascinating spectator sport. "Obama kept his focus. The world was changing as the election was taking place. People were beginning to realize that they didn't want what they'd had before - another Republican," Coleman says. "Unfortunately for Hillary she just wasn't different enough, whereas Obama was different in every way. He literally looked different, he embodied change. Change was what people wanted and he fit the bill." Senator John McCain's campaign failed to inspire the nation, Coleman argues. A long series of political missteps just kept getting more and more pronounced. "I didn't feel McCain was himself during the campaign. I felt that he was following the advice of aides that didn't turn out to be good advice," she offers. "But I also felt after their convention in September that a Republican wasn't going to have a great chance of winning anyway. The country was in a mood to repudiate the last eight years, and I could not see them electing another Republican. "Most of the time McCain was swimming against the tide. The negative campaigning was something I didn't expect to see coming so strongly from the McCain camp. He was swept away by the tide that was hungry for change that he just didn't represent." The appearance of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the so-called game changer, impressed many commentators initially, and Coleman was one of them. "I have to say I was very taken with her for the first few weeks. I thought she did give quite a powerful speech at the convention in political terms for a newcomer. But it didn't last," Coleman says. "She did scare the Obama camp for a little while but they wisely stayed cool and held back and waited for the phenomenon to pass - and it did. In a way I felt sorry for McCain. He found himself in an impossible situation." For Coleman the dramatic change that Obama represents was best illustrated when for fun one day, she researched Obama and McCain's top 10 favorite pop song choices. "I was horrified to discover that I knew all of John McCain's favorite songs - they were all things like Abba and the Beach Boys - but I hardly knew any of Barack Obama's. He chose the Fugees and Kanye West and U2. I thought, oh my God, he's hipper than anyone I know. He made me feel square. "He really does represent a new generation. This is really different for a president. I almost missed the extent of that myself. It's no wonder he got almost every college kid out to vote for him. He's about moving forward and leaving the past behind. The movement Obama put together is still out there." "The Battle for the White House . . . and the Soul of America" is published by Liffey Press (www.the liffeypress.com)
"This is not the remnants of a hurricane, it is a hurricane"