Saturday, September 13, 2008

Questioning The Credibility Of ABC's Charles Gibson

I do not have a complaint when news journalists conduct hard interviews with candidates, not least of when the stakes are for the highest office in the nation. I want to see how these people handle tough situations. I want tough questions answered. And above all, I want to know that this person has the ability to think quick on their feet and defend their stances, while providing me cogent and concrete explanations for how they arrived at their conclusions.

I just want it to the same for both sides. I want no favorites, no overtly visible differences in approach, and no deficits in objectivity.

Unless someone has been totally absorbed into video games, on a drunken binder, or has been pulling a Rip Van Winkle, most people by now know about the first real sit-down interview with VP candidate Sarah Palin. Some have said it wasn't nearly hard enough and Gibson should have cropped her off at the knees, while others say he was too hard on her, portraying himself as a condescending liberal elitist media-type.

Charles Gibson is a unique news anchor, although he is still developing his style. The death of Peter Jennings was an opportunity for him. In the Palin interview he reminded me of a government teacher that wanted to test his student. At first, in the interview with Gov. Palin, she willingly assumed the role of his student and one who has really been cramming to get up to speed. He has that way about him, he draws a younger person into that kind of relationship.

Some may not like Mr. Gibson (both sometimes or anytime), public figures attract a lot of disdain. If you are one that tends to espouse liberal beliefs and your man/woman is taking the full force of a pointed interview from him, you aren't going to like him very much. But you can usually and safely bet the conservatives (no doubt) will. The same thing holds true in reverse, with conservatives. There are those that are mad at him when he grills a conservative, like some think he did with Palin.

But I think he is an equal opportunity griller and to all that have criticized Gibson, consider that Gibson was the first network anchor got a chance to interview Obama (without playing slow-pitch softball with him). As evidence to support my opinionated claim, let me re-call attention to this interview, while Obama was on his recent world tour (that netted him somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 votes). Note how he puts it on Obama, much in the same manner he did Palin:

There is one subtle difference to note in the way Gibson handled each interview. With Obama he treated him more like a tenured professor conducting oral exams on a grad student or a prospective employer, scrutinizing the applicant. He seemed to expect more from Obama. But as we can see from the interview, Barack didn't deliver nearly as well as one could reasonably expect after three years of hardcore preparation. And Charlie didn't let up either. He sensed it and stepped up the pressure, when it became evident Obama was not prepared.

One stark criticism I have of the Palin interview was, the way it was spliced up. It may be nothing, but it always makes me wonder what may have been left out. I am not sure if Gibson has enough power to call that play, but someone did.

I do think Gibson has some aspirations to be the next Tim Russert. Maybe not openly or even consciously, but you can be sure that some are feeling (like Jennings' death) Tim's passing has opened another door for Charlie. I would say he has a chance, but not splicing interviews like this and not by micromanaging the interview.

Russert didn't do these things nearly as rigidly. He was on live. If he made a mistake, it was seen and heard almost in real time on the east coast (tape delay on the west coast). If there a good touché back at him, it was seen instantly. It was less calculated and driven, but Tim was always prepared.

The major difference I see in Gibson's approach is, Russert allowed the conversation to flow and was ready to pounce if there was the slightest slip. He didn't try to control it with relentless paternal pressure, but he liked to mix it up in a good bantering scrap, as competitive equals.

Even more than all of this, if we are going to challenge Charles Gibson on anything, it cannot be with partisanship. He just isn't. But to do it honestly, objectively, and effectively, it must be done by disputing the quality of the questions, as Charles Krauthammer has done in this essay.

"At times visibly nervous . . . Ms. Palin most visibly stumbled when she was asked by Mr. Gibson if she agreed with the Bush doctrine. Ms. Palin did not seem to know what he was talking about. Mr. Gibson, sounding like an impatient teacher, informed her that it meant the right of 'anticipatory self-defense.' "

-- New York Times, Sept. 12

Informed her? Rubbish.

The New York Times got it wrong. And Charlie Gibson got it wrong.

There is no single meaning of the Bush doctrine. In fact, there have been four distinct meanings, each one succeeding another over the eight years of this administration -- and the one Charlie Gibson cited is not the one in common usage today. It is utterly different.

I had a professor in college that never complained if you made the claim that a statement he made was BS or wasn't fair. But it had to be followed up with proof as to why it was either. And if you did, you could rest assured that it would not affect your grade. When Charlie asked this question, I wasn't sure what the hell he was talking about either. And as many regulars here know, I eat and drink politics far more than most people.

The "Bush Doctrine" is not an official document that can be viewed and referred to, like say the Constitution, Declaration Of Independence, or the Emancipation Proclamation. When someone invokes the "Bush Doctrine", most of the time, it comes in a derisive and critical tone used by those that don't like him.

So, as we critique Gibson on this particular question, we know that this was one attempt at a "gotcha" moment that failed. The person that seems to have been "gotten" was Charlie. And if he wants to ever aspire to be the toughest interview in town (as Russert was), he has little further to go.

(Note: The Palin interview was scattered, but you can feel free to search it out on ABC's 20/20 website.)

UPDATE: Well folks, it looks like things went like I suspected. Mark Levin has the entire interview and underlines the parts that were canned for the airing. It's enough to qualify as bias, under the heading known as " an act of omission". I am not sure how much Gibson's input has to do with it, but someone with an office, desk, and pen, signed off on the edited version and probably had discussed some specific rationales other than time constraints.


Anonymous said...

Krauthammer has it right … and so do you. Sarah hasn’t called me yet for any advice, disappointing only because I would like to get some of that GOP Campaign consulting money, but when she does … I’d like to tell her to learn when to stop talking. I think it was plain that she felt intimidated by Gibson Augustus, but I also think she’s a quick study. The problem is that everyone on the left is waiting to pounce on Ms. Palin … which is hardly what I call human decency, but then no one ever said the Fourth Estate is composed of decent people.

Once again, I salute you on a job well done in this post, Mr. Sunset. Now, uh … how’s your bank balance these days? I saw a Porsche on EBay, and my birthday is coming up …

Z said...

It felt to me like Gibson 'willingly assumed the role' of TEACHER, and that bothered me. The glasses, the papers..the peering at her as if he knew better. That's how I felt, anyway.

No, he is NO Tim Russert, but Russert had stopped being QUITE as unbiased as he'd been the years previous, too.......he was tough on everyone, but there was a sense of his politics coming through the last few years; I sensed that, anyway. I will miss that guy forever. Gibson, I wouldn't notice he'd left (God forbid it's like Tim left us, of course)

Sarah has self confidence and believes in herself and her judgments/instincts, in my opinion; that's hard to crack and very hard to beat (I HOPE!)

Good post, thanks......and, you getting Mustang a PORSCHE? GOOD ONE!!!! LOL!

A.C. McCloud said...

Nice summary, LA. A couple of things I noticed.. Obama said "Charlie" a number of times when things got tough, just like Palin...Gibson was just as tough on him re the capital of Israel/Palestine (rookie mistake?) peering down the reading glasses and such...and Obama explained the
"too young" criticism not by pointing out his experience, but by saying he's plucking a few grays.

I'd like to know how this interview was spliced in comparison to the Palin interview.

All_I_Can_Stands said...

Krauthammer was the first to use the term "Bush Doctrine" and his new column claims Gibson got it wrong. There have been four major definitions. Palin was right to ask what he was referring to.

I have a feeling that her seeming lack of knowledge on the subject could have been her way of avoiding her 'brand' being mixed with Bush. I can just see headlines "Palin aligns with Bush on Foreign Policy". Her hesitation may have been thinking of a way to keep out of that trap.

LASunsett said...

//how’s your bank balance these days? I saw a Porsche on EBay, and my birthday is coming up …//

Sure. Go ahead and put it on one of your platinum credit cards, and I'll cover it when I get down there. Either that or send me your checking account number and I'll do a online banking transaction straight into your account.

LASunsett said...

Hi Z,

I agree with you on Palin's confidence. I saw her gain some confidence as the interview went along.

I think her biggest appeal at the outset of her nomination is her populist message, but I think her best moments will be on economic issues right now. If I am McCain, I am having her talk about the waste in government. They need to be as specific as they can, without tipping their hand to Camp O too much.

LASunsett said...

//I'd like to know how this interview was spliced in comparison to the Palin interview.//

An update to this post will be coming in a few minutes, as soon as I am done responding to the comments. Get ready.

LASunsett said...

//I have a feeling that her seeming lack of knowledge on the subject could have been her way of avoiding her 'brand' being mixed with Bush. I can just see headlines "Palin aligns with Bush on Foreign Policy". Her hesitation may have been thinking of a way to keep out of that trap.//

Excellent point, sir.