"Vetting" the Interviewers

As I watched the Sarah Palin-Charles Gibson ABC-TV interviews last week, it crossed my mind that we need to know at least as much about the interviewer as we do the one being interviewed.

With his Ben Franklin glasses, his pompous and often condescending tone, and his obvious attempts to rattle and attack the healthy and attractive Governor Palin, the rather paunchy-looking Gibson looked sadly ridiculous.

Since he usually isn’t so combative, generally coming across quite mild, even grandfatherly, it seems obvious that he was told by the network to act tough and ask penetrating questions, most likely provided to him by his staff.

But production values aside, it is high time that we viewers demand of the interviewer the same kind of grilling and “vetting” they attempt to give a political candidate. Charles Gibson has been on the air for years, but what do we really know about him? Ditto such other media giants as Keith Olberman, and Chris Mathews, Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Barbara Walters and Liz Vargas, among many others. The answer on one level may be “way more than enough,” but the question still must be “who are these interviewers?”

The argument that the American people have to know about a relatively unknown person suddenly running for vice president on a major political ticket is all well and good, although in the past month we have learned more about Sarah Palin than most of us know about Joe Biden, JohnMcCain, Barack Obama, President Bush and quite possibly are own families put together. Sure, political people need to have their views fully known to the citizens who may be entrusting their government to them. But there is an equal argument that we need to know the context and the background of the interviewer. Really know about him (or her). After all, the fourth estate shapes the debates and narrows in or allows a pass on almost all the issues they and only they deem important for us to know. That is an awesome amount of power to let go unchecked.

If the networks are going to continue to play the pious game of how very fair and unbiased they are (and what a laugh that is since the truth is we are all individually subjective), then do they not have an obligation to let us “vet” their top newscasters and interviewers? In short, who are these interviewers? Herein is a script to help us find out:

We are invited into their houses with our cameras and, although we do not display an actual address, out of “good taste” or maybe a lawsuit, we stand maybe fifty feet from the front door and clearly display the immediate neighborhood for all the good and bad people to see and figure out exactly where the subject dwells.

“Good evening Charlie; Hi there Keith, Hey Chris, Yo Brian, Greetings Katie, Liz…Thank you for letting us intrude into your home with our cameras and for agreeing to this interview. Of course, if you didn’t agree, we would film the outside of your house anyway, probably with the address prominently displayed and we would start an insufferable public relations spiel about how you were too chicken to agree to answer our questions.  We’d hound you on the street as you walked or rode to work and stick microphones in your face demanding answers to the most personal questions we can ask.

So, thanks for saving us that theater by being here for us right now.

As you know guys, the American people have a right to know who it is that is addressing them each night on a major network and informing them of what is news and what is not. We had to pay for our television receiver and we have limited news choices. Charlie, you work for the American Broadcasting Company, and we are Americans. Thus, we have a right to know why you take the slants you do and what you believe on the issues upon which you report.

Let’s begin:

How much are you paid for your services to ABC? You report on the poor and the needy almost every night and you demand that our government do more. So how about it, what do you earn? Same for you, Chris…And how much do you give to charity? Tell us about your investments? Are they working out well? Let us look at your tax returns. Of course, if you don’t answer because you find the questions intrusive, we’ll just go look it up out of the public records, then find someone to spill confidential information and report on it all anyway, especially since when we last checked most of the news media is publically owned and, in any event, attempts to speak for the public

Each of you: what is your political affiliation? Does that affiliation affect your questions in any way, do you think? Why? Have you ever switched your affiliation? Whom do you admire? Whom do you detest? Why? Oh, any health issues? Keith, you seem bi-polar at best, are you? Your private medical records, please? Come on, we’ll find out anyway. How often have you voted in major American elections? Have you missed casting your vote in any election cycle?

Hey Keith, have you served in the military? Do you have a personal vendetta against George Bush? Is ranting all you know how to do? (Wait, we know the answers to those questions already)…We don’t want to seem to be drilling you on the issue, but what kind of car do you drive? Do you have more than one? How much did you spend on gas last year? Any traffic tickets? Oh, and how many houses do you own? Katie, ever had a nanny employed? What nationality? What do you think about illegal immigrants? Should they be allowed to vote? Have driver’s licenses? Collect benefits?

Chris, what is your religious affiliation? Do you attend church regularly? How often? Do you tithe? How much? Do you have a family? How long have you been married? Ever been divorced? Widowed? Do you have any children?Grandchildren? Do they like you? Does any of your family dislike you? Why?

Charlie, have you ever had an affair? Did your wife know?

Brian, have you ever been arrested?

Liz, have you ever done drugs? Are you personally in favor or against the war in Iraq? Afghanistan? Why?

What are you views on abortion? Specifically? Do those views affect your interview style where relevant?

Charles, how did you land your job? Why is a morning show pitch-man who once was talking about coffee, orange juice, travel, new products for the home and the like suddenly thrust into anchoring the evening news viewed by millions each night?

Did you know that the “Bush Doctrine” has been updated at least four times and is not what you stated it was the other night: namely America “has the right to anticipatory self-defense.” What is our source for that? Try Charles Krauthammer, who is credited in Wikipedia as being the man who first coined the term “Bush Doctrine.” According to Mr. Krauthammer:

“When the Iraq war was looming, Bush offered his major justification by enunciating a doctrine of preemptive war. This is the one Charlie Gibson thinks is the Bush doctrine. It’s not. It’s the third in a series and was superseded by the fourth and current definition of the Bush doctrine, the most sweeping formulation of the Bush approach to foreign policy and the one that most clearly and distinctively defines the Bush years: the idea that the fundamental mission of American foreign policy is to spread democracy throughout the world. It was most dramatically enunciated in Bush’s second inaugural address: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

Who writes your material, Charlie? Or do you write it yourself? Who checks your facts? Do you believe we should negotiate with Iran? Are we over-weighted in our support for Israel? What should we do about the Russia-Georgia situation?

Hey Keith, What do you think about gay marriages? Are you in favor of them? Are you happy with your life? Oh, don’t answer, in your case we already know. You are angry at everyone including yourself. But let us give you a forum: what should we do about Hugo Chavez? Is North Korea a threat? How should we treat China’s military build-up? Your answers will help us decide if you can conduct a reasonably fair interview.

Ladies and Gentlemen, have you ever given a news story a favorable spin because it was about or affected one of your commercial sponsors? Or maybe because a network executive ordered you to? What is the answer to America’s energy crisis? Should we drill, drill, drill or go for alternative fuel development? Any nuclear energy in our future, do you think?

Guys, what do you think about old Dan Rather? Should a newsman check his facts before going with a story, or just air stuff based on assumptions and innuendo?

Ok, Charlie; there is a lot more we want to ask in our follow-up interviews, some of it even relevant and not just personal, but we have to hurry now and get this to the editors. Yep, we gotta run, Charles, George Stephanopoulos is setting up to critique your appearance with us right now…speaking of which,  George, we need a quick interview with you.

Copyright the American people 2008.