When Charlie Gibson approached ABC News president David Westin to advise him of his intention to step down as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight, I have to wonder if Westin asked, “In what respect, Charlie?”
Gibson hardly distinguished himself as an anchor or an editor. The moist prominent role he played was as a pitifully poor moderator for a Democratic presidential primary debate in Philadelphia, where he was universally panned.
Diane Sawyer has been announced as Gibson’s replacement. She is presently the host of ABC’s morning show, Good Morning America. But it is notable that she was once Richard Nixon’s press aide and was on the team that prepped him for the Nixon/Frost interviews.
Despite Sawyer’s political past, I think she’s marginally an improvement over Gibson. Plus, it will mean that two of the Big Three networks have female news anchors. That is a profound advancement in a business that is notoriously male-dominated, and has been for decades. It could bring some new perspectives to television news. These broadcast news programs have twice the viewership of the highest rated cable news programs, so her exposure will be significant.
Judging by the treatment Sarah Palin is receiving from the media, a casual observer could be forgiven for assuming that she is the candidate for president and John McCain is her running mate. Wednesday evening she arrived back in her home state of Alaska and all three cable news networks interrupted their programming to air her remarks to an adoring crowd. That’s funny, because I don’t recall the media dropping everything and rushing to Wilmington, Delaware to capture the live broadcast of Joe Biden’s homecoming.
Virtually every report from the Republican campaign trail is about Palin. McCain has become an appendage to whom little attention is paid except to inquire as to how awesome it is to be with Sarah. All anybody is talking about is pigs, lipstick, and mooseburgers. There is very little public discussion of … um, what do you call them … oh yeah, “issues.” This is no accident. The McCain team has finally figured out a way to avoid substance entirely and keep their elderly candidate from getting fatigued. Just give the spotlight to Palin and let her tap dance around the country while McCain catches forty winks in the wings.
A lot has been made (by me) of Palin’s stonewalling of the press. It has been 13 days since she was selected to join McCain and she has still not had a press conference or sat for an interview with a reporter. My Palin Watch widget is documenting how long she is dodging the media. She is scheduled to end that streak with an interview by Charlie Gibson this week. But lost in the shuffle is that McCain himself is nearly as evasive as Palin. Since July 27 (45 days), McCain has appeared only twice on a national news program. That’s a remarkable turnaround for a man who has set records for media whoring.
Palin’s new status as a celebrity pol is confirmed by the attention she is getting from inside the campaign Wurlitzer. She is now attended to by a high-level crew of former Bush, and current McCain, cronies. The cast includes:
Randy Scheunemann – McCain senior foreign-policy adviser.
Joe Donoghue – McCain Senate aide.
Talk about “just more of the same…” This contingent of familiar handlers is busily preparing Palin for her get together with Gibson. They traveled to Fairbanks with her this evening and are expected to be drilling her non-stop (get your minds out of the gutter) for her debut encounter with the national media. It seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a not particularly ominous interrogator like Gibson. Either she aces this test or the speculation that she is a lightweight, insufficiently vetted, politically convenient, ideologically eccentric character from Bizarro World, will be forever burned into the public mind – if it’s not too late already.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, the problem with the debate in Philadelphia was not that it was more harsh on one candidate than the other, and it was not whether the questions were too tough. The problem was that the questions were too stupid. The problem was that the moderators behaved like tabloid gomers who just wanted to stir the kettle. The problem was that George Stephanopoulos could ask, without gagging, how much Rev. Wright loves America. Was Obama supposed to hold his hands apart in the air and say, “He loves it this much?”
It has already been reported that Geo-Stef was channeling Sean Hannity for his question selection. Now we also learn that Charlie Gibson mangled journalistic ethics by utilizing a plant:
“I want to do one more question, which goes to the basic issue of electability. And it is a question raised by a voter in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a woman by the name of Nash McCabe.”
First of all, it was not a question raised by a voter. It was a question raised by Gibson’s choice to air this voter’s video. What’s worse is that it was not even a random Pennsylvania voter at all. Ms. McCabe was sought after for inclusion in the debate.
Secondly, why is a question about “electability” included in a candidates debate anyway? Does Gibson think that when Americans lie awake at night they are pondering a candidate’s electability rather than whether their company will have another round of lay-offs, or how they are going to pay their mortgage?
It’s the stupidity, the irrelevancy, and the deceit. That’s the problem with the debate – and with the Corporate Media as a whole.
The Democratic debate in Philadelphia last night was dominated by a wall of stupid painstakingly constructed by ABC’s moderators, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos.
Their obsession with trivia and avoidance of substance submerged this affair from its opening introduction. It’s hard to say it much better than Washington Post critic Tom Shales who leads off by saying that “Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances,” and then proceeds to say what he really thinks.
And he’s not alone…
Tom Shales (Washington Post) – “For the first 52 minutes of the two-hour, commercial-crammed show, Gibson and Stephanopoulos dwelled entirely on specious and gossipy trivia that already has been hashed and rehashed, in the hope of getting the candidates to claw at one another over disputes that are no longer news. Some were barely news to begin with.”
Will Bunch (Philadelphia Daily News) – “By so badly botching arguably the most critical debate of such an important election, in a time of both war and economic misery, you disgraced the American voters, and in fact even disgraced democracy itself.”
Greg Mitchell (Editor and Publisher) – “In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia.”
Andrew Sullivan (The Atlantic) – “The loser was ABC News: one of the worst media performances I can remember – petty, shallow, process-obsessed, trivial where substantive, and utterly divorced from the actual issues that Americans want to talk about.”
Joanne Ostrow (Denver Post) – “Wednesday’s televised candidates’ debate from Philadelphia, tape delayed in Denver, got around to issues eventually. But the first round- devoted to pettiness and word obsession and gaffes- was more revealing.”
Joe Klein (Time) – “The ABC moderators clearly didn’t spend much time thinking about creative substantive gambits. They asked banal, lapidary questions, rather than trying to break new ground.”
Michael Grunwald (Time) – “At a time of foreign wars, economic collapse and environmental peril, the cringe-worthy first half of the debate focused on such crucial matters as Senator Obama’s comments about rural bitterness, his former pastor, an obscure sixties radical with whom he was allegedly “friendly,” and the burning constitutional question of why he doesn’t wear an American flag pin on his lapel.”
Richard Adams (The Guardian) – “A stinker, an absolute car crash – thanks to the host network ABC. It was worse than even those debates last year with 18 candidates on stage, including crazy old Mike Gravel.”
Noam Scheiber (New Republic) – “The first half of the debate felt like a 45-minute negative ad, reprising the most chewed over anti-Obama allegations (bittergate, Jeremiah Wright, patriotism) and even some relatively obscure ones (his vague association with former Weatherman radical Bill Ayers).”
Daniel Rubin (Philadelphia Inquirer) – “We’ve revisted bitter. We’ve gone back to Bosnia. We’ve dragged Rev. Wright back up onto the podium. We’ve mis-spent this debate by allowing Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos to ask questions that skirt what in my mind is what we need to know now. What would they do about the mess they’d inherit? The war. Health care. The economy. Stupid.”
Cathleen Decker and Noam N. Levey (Los Angeles Times) – “With the moderators and Clinton raising assorted questions about Obama’s past for the first half of the debate, issues received relatively short shrift. Not until 50 minutes in was a policy issue — Iraq — asked about by the moderators. More than an hour went by before a question was asked about what Stephanopoulos called “the No. 1 issue on Americans’ minds” — the economy.”
“…experience, character [and] credibility. You can’t find a presidential election where those issues didn’t come into play.”
The problem is that you can’t find a but a trace of questions in this debate where those issues did come into play. The moderators had obviously decided that they were going to chase petty controversy and ratings by focusing on tabloid trivialities. Their cynical smugness and conceit are a sad commentary on the state of journalism and politics.