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Top 10 Most Controversial Interviews

VO: DM WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey

Script written by Nick Roffey

These interviews waded into contentious waters and divided viewers. From Tom Cruise’s interview with Matt Lauer to Charlie Sheen’s “winning” antics, there have been many shocking interviews throughout the years. WatchMojo is counting down the interviews that caused the most controversy.

Special thanks to our users Al Bebak and BucketsFinest for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at http://WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top%20Most%20Controversial%20Interviews


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Script written by Nick Roffey

Top 10 Most Controversial Interviews

These interviews waded into contentious waters and divided viewers. Welcome to, and today we're counting down our picks for the top 10 most controversial interviews.

For this list, we're looking at interviews that were provocative for their content or circumstances and generated public discussion and debate.

#10: Tom Cruise & Matt Lauer

This 2005 interview was supposed to be about “The War of the Worlds,” but it soon devolved into a war of words. Things started out with a few questions about Scientology, but then took a different track. When Matt Lauer asked Tom Cruise about his criticism of Brooke Shields for her use of medication to treat postpartum depression, the star launched into an incensed rant against Ritalin and psychiatry. Pretty serious stuff for a celebrity interview. Lauer tried to hold his own, but in the end, he just didn’t “know” what Tom Cruise “knows.”

#9: Sarah Palin & Katie Couric

It was hard not to cringe during this trainwreck of an interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric. If 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin had expected Couric to go easy, she – and the viewing public - soon learned otherwise. Broadcast over several segments, Couric’s questions were direct, and Palin’s answers . . . well, less so. Palin’s insistence that she had foreign policy experience because Russia is right next door to Alaska didn’t exactly help. Palin came off looking unnerved and ill-informed . . . which she later blamed on Couric.

#8: Monica Lewinsky & Barbara Walters

It wasn’t the first time Barbara Walters had a woman spill the beans on her lover. But few interviews have been as anticipated as her 1999 sitdown with Monica Lewinsky, the month after Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice. The former White House intern apologized to Clinton’s wife and daughter, and said the President was a “good kisser.” Millions of viewers watched as Walters grilled Lewinsky on her affairs with married men - only revealing her own in an autobiography years later.

#7: Charlie Sheen on ABC & NBC

Oh how the mighty have fallen. In 2011, soon after leaving the sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” Charlie Sheen gave a series of interviews that were strange, to say the least. The star of Oliver Stone's “Platoon” launched into bombastic rants during a string of interviews on ABC and NBC, claiming he had "tiger blood" and "Adonis DNA." He also admitted to using drugs - a drug called "Charlie Sheen." Hey, sometimes you just gotta be honest. His grandiose pronouncements ignited speculation regarding his mental state and continued drug use. And this wouldn’t be the last time his personal life hit headlines.

#6: Joan Juliet Buck & Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad

Somehow, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Right before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, Vogue sent writer Joan Juliet Buck to interview Syrian First Lady Asma al-Assad for their 2011 “Power Issue.” In a naive and flattering fluff piece published just as the government cracked down on protesters, Buck painted the Assads as charitable and “wildly democratic” proponents of peace. According to Buck, she begged her editors not to run it. But Vogue forged ahead, ruining Buck’s career, and later removing the article from their website.

#5: Lance Armstrong & Oprah Winfrey

For almost two decades, he was a hero for many. And for some, Lance Armstrong is still remembered for his dramatic comeback from cancer in the late 90s. But in 2012, the disgraced cyclist was banned from competition and stripped of all seven Tour de France titles for using performance-enhancing drugs. His tense interview with Oprah marked his first public admission, confirming what many had long suspected: doping in the sport was widespread, and Armstrong had been using banned substances since early in his career.

#4: Megyn Kelly & Alex Jones

Incendiary shock jock Alex Jones thrives on provocation. He’s infamous for claiming the Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre was all a hoax, and for going bananas in interviews . So when Megyn Kelly interviewed Jones for NBC in 2017, the network was criticized for airing his views at all. Kelly countered that his opinions have to be addressed, and pressed Jones hard as the conspiracy theorist scrambled to cover all bases. Nonetheless, the backlash continued when Jones released tapes of Kelly promising to show viewers “the dad in him.” And Rolling Stone magazine brought up the ghost of Kelly’s Fox News past to suggest she had helped foster the culture that made Jones popular.

#3: Sean Penn & El Chapo

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán had the dubious honor of being the most powerful drug lord in the world. The head of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel was a wanted fugitive when actor Sean Penn interviewed him for Rolling Stone in 2015. Penn’s in was actress Kate del Castillo, who El Chapo had invited to meet him. El Chapo boasted he trafficked more drugs than anyone else in the world, but reactions focused on the ethical and legal issues of the interview. Seems the magazine didn’t inform the authorities and promised the drug baron editorial control. In the end, El Chapo must regret the meeting most: it inadvertently helped police locate him anyway, leading to his latest arrest.

#2: David Frost & Richard Nixon

Nixon’s name has become synonymous with political scandal, which wasn’t the personal legacy the disgraced ex-President had in mind for himself. But through his interviews with Robert Frost, Nixon hoped to restore his image and mitigate the political fallout of Watergate. Arguably, Nixon got the best of early one-on-ones; but then Frost pulled out his secret weapon: a transcript of a damning conversation between Nixon and aide Charles Colson, proving Nixon’s knowledge of the cover-up. Outfoxed, Nixon dissembled, but with his back against the wall, finally apologized to the nation.

Before we reveal the identity of our top pick, here are some honorable mentions:

Christine O'Donnell & Piers Morgan

Whitney Houston & Diane Sawyer

Donald Trump on Fox News' "Fox and Friends"

#1: Michael Jackson & Martin Bashir

In 2002 and 2003, British journalist Martin Bashir was given unprecedented access to the reclusive King of Pop for his film “Living with Michael Jackson.” It was an interview Jackson would regret. The film included Jackson’s claim that his father had been abusive, but also the revelation that Jackson sometimes had sleepovers with children. The interview ignited a media and legal firestorm. While Jackson said he felt “utterly betrayed”, and US reviewers accused Bashir of using manipulative tactics, new allegations of child molestation divided the public, and continue to cast a cloud over Jackson’s legacy.

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