THIS SNAKESKINWEARING, BOY‑CRAZY, ROADTRIPPING REDHEAD IS MTV'S FIRST LADY OF COOL.
By David Hochman
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark
Photo Editor: Jennifer Crandall
Now in her sixth year at MTV, 28‑year-old Tabitha Soren, the network's news reporter and arbiter of sass, is still her generation's leading butt‑buster in Washington, D.C. By asking tough, often irreverent questions of presidential candidates‑from Bob Dole to Bill Clinton‑ she's become a force the political establishment simply cannot ignore. This campaign season, she's even got her own bandwagon, MTV's "Choose or Lose '96" bus, a snazzy studio‑on‑wheels with room enough for even the biggest egos in politics. Soren's familiar with the road‑trip routine. The daughter of a military man, she spent her childhood moving from Texas to California to the Philippines to Germany to Las Vegas before settling down in exotic Manhattan. Having landed exclusives recently with the likes of Yasir Arafat, Tupac Shakur and Newt Gingrich, she's become something of a slacker's Ted Koppel, only with much better hair.
Who's sexier? Dole or Newt?
I tend to like men who are thinner, so probably Dole. He looks really good, and he's got a great personality. After he did an on‑line chat with us, I thanked him and said, "It made you seem very '90s." He turned around and said, "Hey, I'm only 72." He's got a good sense of humor.
What was the scariest interview moment you’ve ever had?
The very first time we did a big Clinton forum. Thank goodness most of the shots were only waist up, because I remember having these pants on with lining inside, and when I took them off afterward, they literally were stuck to my body because I was sweating so profusely from nervousness. It was really disgusting. I was surprised that people couldn't tell. But I've become smarter about knowing my limits. I'm not going to get myself in situations where I'm in over my head.
What kinds of situations are you talking about?
Having my own talk show, for instance. Being in movies. I'm not an actress‑I'm a journalist. I'm not interested in doing commercials. People wanted me to write a book four years ago. I was 24 years old ‑ I wasn't going to write an autobiography. Get a life! When I'm out of work in 30 years, then I'll be doing my tell‑all. Everybody, watch out!
Of all the politicians, rock stars and celebrities you've interviewed, who's been the strangest?
Recently, it was [former presidential candidate] Steve Forbes. The man does not blink. I wasted half the interview going, "Uh, well, uh,well," because he was just staring at me with this look. I wanted to turn him around and go: "Who's working the show? You got strings back there?" I'd look into his eyes and see the back of his head.
Which interview subject would you say you've had the biggest crush, on?
Oh,God! Johnny Depp. I mean, who doesn't have a crush on him? The guy is physically perfect. I interviewed him in a house, up against this antique gynecological table. He was standing in between the stirrups. Now, as a woman, that's a little disturbing. It was the worst interview I've ever done. I'm barely forming sentences. My intern logged the tape and came back and said, "Were you on drugs?" I was like,"It's Johnny Depp!"
What about you and Yasir Arafat? The sparks seemed to be flying during that interview.
He totally flirted with me! He was like, "Where are you from? "And I said, "Texas," and he said, "Ah, they're all so big and beautiful from Texas?' He really went overboard with the compliments. But let's just say, nothing was coming from my end! I remember thinking, Pooh‑pooh the small talk, I've only got 15 minutes here. Let's go.
You seem more at ease in front of the camera now than you were in your early MTV days.
I'm getting a bit more relaxed. The other day I did Larry King Live, and I didn't even wear a suit. I used to think if I looked serious, people would take me seriously. Now, I'm 28 years old, I'm a woman, I like music, and I'm just as passionate about that as I am about politics. And if these snakeskin pants look good on me, then damn straight I'm going to wear them.
Which rock star would be the coolest president?
That's sort of easy: Michael Stipe. He's really brilliant, though, you know, he's got his own hang‑ups. It would be a moody White House.
Whom would you most want to interview?
Well, when I was a correspondent for Today, I pitched Richard Nixon. It took them so long to get back to me the guy was dead by the time they were ready. Now I think Lisa Marie Presley would be near the top of my list.
What would you want to know?
What the hell was she thinking? I don't understand what was in it for her. Am I missing something? That would be the pop-culture answer. I'm actually in the process of trying to get Castro and Mandela for the next show we do. And I might just sit down and do a show with all the first ladies. But a lot of the ideas I have don't play on MTV.
Does that mean you're outgrowing MTV?
I used to think so, but I don't anymore. I feel like I've hit a groove there that works really well for me. Very few places would utilize the passion I have for music and politics. Besides, if I'd gone to a network, there would be people there who are many years ahead of me, and I wouldn't deserve to have a one‑on-one with the president. Tom Brokaw gets that.
Would you want to host '20/20'?
Sure! It'd be nice if I was accepted into an environment like 20/20 when I'm, like, 40 or 50, but I'm not going to die if it doesn't happen. I'd also like to be the noon anchor somewhere so I could be home by 3 to be with my kids ‑when I have them‑ when they got home from school. I'd be very happy with that. I don't have to rule the world. Right now, though, I'm having fun.
What kind of old lady are you going to be?
Hopefully I won't be a lonely one. That's probably my biggest fear: growing old alone. I want my personal and professional lives to balance out. I've done a pretty good job of doing it half‑and‑half and fulfilling other interests, like poetry, boys, I buy a lot of paintings, travel. So, if this fickle television business doesn't work out, my whole identity is not going to crumble.
How's your love life now?
I have to say that in the last year and a half I've probably been more boy crazy than in my entire life. Because in the seven years before that I was involved with just two people ‑ one for four years, one for three. I haven't dated since I was a teen‑ager. Think about that‑ a teen‑ager. Not through college, not after college, not when I'd get on TV and all of a sudden all the boys are paying attention to me. I couldn't take advantage of any of that‑until now.