Sunday, September 11, 2011

TV: Posing as a TV journalist

On Tuesday, all eyes were on Leon Panetta and, excepting the president of the United States, he was the most talked about member of the administration. That was due to Fox News reporting on an option to keep a minimum of 3,000 troops in Iraq beyond 2011 and that Panetta was supporting the measure. The report came close to dominating that day's White House press briefing (if it didn't, the only thing that got more attention was Jake Tapper's line of questioning on Jimmy Hoffa Jr.'s recent rhetoric) as CBS News' Norah O'Donnell and Fox News' Wendell Goler peppered White House spokesperson Jay Carney with questions about the 3,000 troops report. Wednesday morning, The New York Times would show up with the 'report' and 'forget' to credit Fox News. [Felecia Sonmez (Washington Post) did credit Fox News as did Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) and Mackenzie Weinger (POLITICO).] Fox News' scoop was so huge that, come Friday morning, it was being used (misused) by Diane Rehm and guests to distort realities on Iraq.


So "lucky," for a TV program, would be getting an interview with Leon Panetta last week. But making good on that lucky break would require something more than just showing up comatose with most of your raggedy, dry hair dragged over your bald spot. In other words, Charlie Rose still can't find his ass with both hands.

Tuesday on Twitter, as Fox News' scoop was dominating, Charlie Rose showed up to Tweet, "An hour with Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense."

"Wait," you're saying, "in all of the Wednesday coverage, I never read about Rose asking Panetta about any of this." Of course you didn't. And that's due to the fact that journalists know Rose has 'processing issues' and can't handle breaking news. Tuesday, September 6th, the breaking news was Fox News' scoop. Charlie interviewed Panetta that day, Panetta traveled to and in the state of New York that day (on an Osprey aircraft, the Defense Dept would brag). Yet Charlie missed the big story of the day.

And because that is his pattern, none of the reports filed on Wednesday bothered to mention the show. Journalists know Charlie's questions are prepared long before the interview's taping and that he really can't handle 'improv.'

As a result of only focusing on the 3,000 story, they missed some actual news. Maybe intentionally because they didn't feel like wading through the program. When actual news comes via Charlie Rose, it comes stumbling drunken down the hall and you may miss it completely because your mind has gone numb from the lack of structure, the never-ending bromides and the refusal to ever challenge a response.

For example, few could stay awake through this response to what it's like to be Secretary of Defense.

Leon Panetta: I think the fundamental mission is one of protecting the country and, uh, obviously, uh, in the intelligence arena, you know it's about gathering intelligence to provide to the president and leaders so that they can make the right decisions about what needed to be done. In the job of Secretary of Defense, it's about actually doing the operations. It's about, uh, being in charge of the services, our men and women in uniform who have to actually go out there and do the mission. Uh, and that means that, what you have to do is make sure that there is a defined mission, that they clearly are doing whatever's necessary to try to achieve that mission and that, in the end, uh, the goal is that by achieving that mission hat you're making this country safer. Uh, we're facing a myriad of threats these days. Uh, threats, uh, not only from terrorism, a continuing threat from terrorism, uh, we're involved in two wars, uh, we've, uh, been involved in a NATO mission in Libya, uh we continue to face threats from Iran and North Korea, uh, we're living in a world where, uh, cyber security is now something to be concerned about in terms of cyber attacks, uh, we also are living in a world in which there are rising powers, uh, countries like China, Brazil and India, not to mention obviously Russia -- and, uh, others that-that provide a challenge to us -- not only in trying to cooperate with them but making sure that, uh, they don't undermine the stability of the world. These are a myriad of challenges that confront the United States of America today and our responsibility at the Defense Department, as it is at the State Department, is to do everything that we can to make sure that as we engage in those various threats and crisis that we are trying to do our utmost to protect the American people.

Are you yawning? We don't blame you. And we're aware that there are a dozen things that a real interviewer could have picked up on at any point -- not limited to the fact that China is hardly a "rising power." It's been bailing out the US financially for how long now?

But it's that sort of blather that leads reporters to avoid mining Rose's show for any pertinent details or actual news. Which is how they missed the big news that Panetta's ready to mess with service members' retirement packages.

Charlie Rose: So are you saying you draw the line at changing retirement benefits for members of the armed services?

Leon Panetta: You know, having been OMB director and Chairman of the Budget Committee in the Congress, uh, I have always approached, uh, these issues by saying, 'We've got to put everything on the table. We've got to look at everything.' I think that's the way to do it.

Charlie Rose: From retirement benefits to weapons systems, to weapons systems --

Leon Panetta: To weapon systems --

Charlie Rose: -- to making sure that your priority is having mine resistant vehicles, especially --

Leon Panetta: I --

Charlie Rose: -- something that service men --

Leon Panetta: I --

Charlie Rose: -- have been talking about for years.

Leon Panetta: You have to look -- you have to look -- you have to look at everything. You've got to be able to talk it through, you've got to look at those systems. You've got to decide what's important to keep, what's not, you know, important, what reforms can be made. Uh, you know, when you're facing a $400 billion reduction over 12 years, if you're going to do it right, you've got to look at every area.

Panetta will go on to give lip service about the importance that they not "break faith" with those who have served; however, he's already made clear his belief that 'everything is on the table.' Let's hope veterans groups were paying attention.

Though Charlie had no intention to ask about actual breaking news, he did want to know, in general terms, about Iraq. This was Panetta's response:

We are in the process of drawing down our combat forces and I think the president has made clear that we will draw down our combat forces, all of our combat forces, by the end of the year. The real question now is going to be what kind of presence are we, uh, going to continue to have there? Uh, or are we going to continue to have a presence there? Uhm, they have indicated -- the Iraqis have indicated -- President Maliki has indicated, that he does want to have some kind of training assistance uh and so, uh, the-the issue of what that will look like, how many will be there, is something that has to be negotiated with Iraqis.

A real journalist would have followed up here with, "Okay and what about these reports that you're pushing an option to keep 3,000 US troops in Iraq beyond 2011?" But Charlie Rose isn't a real journalist so he followed up with, "What's the influence of Iran today in Iraq?"

A real journalist might have pointed out that supposedly Barack Obama withdrew all US combat forces by August 31st of last year. A real journalist might have pointed out that Jalal Talabani is President of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is prime minister. A real journalist might have questioned terms like"trainers" or pointed out that if training were so important, maybe the US shouldn't have, in 2006, stopped the training Iraqi forces were receiving in Jordan?

"Only bastards and cream rise," Paul Newman declares in Harper and we can't think of a better explanation for Charlie Rose. And in his ascension he's bailed on journalism due to the fact that he's deceived himself into believing he's actually been invited to the party. This leads to those embarrassing moments when he and his guests speak around an issue to keep the viewers out. (For one example see our "TV: Charlie Rose by any other name would still be as bad" from 2007.) And it leads him to find ethical lapses amusing.

Last week, for example, he yet again chatted up blow hard Thomas Friedman.

Charlie Rose: Here is the first question though: Why are you quoting Michael Mandelbaum so often in your column? I now know because you talk to him all the time.

Thomas Friedman: The book kind of outed our relationship.

And they laugh.

But should they be laughing? Is it really in the best interest of The New York Times for Thomas Friedman to use his columns as a roll-out for his new book? And to do so without informing the readers?

The paper won't have to answer those questions because, as usual, Charlie didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Friedman last mention of Mandelbaum in a column was September 5, 2010's "Superbroke, Superfrugal, Superpower?" and, prior to that, September 9, 2007's "What's Missing in Baghdad."

Imagine if Charlie spent less time trying to be amusing and more time attempting to be factual.

Then again, don't.

Presumably, the death of Osama bin Laden would qualify as a serious matter to PBS viewers. Were they troubled by the way an exchange with Panetta went down?

Charlie Rose: You had a meeting with the leader of ISI after Osama bin Laden had been killed questions began, arose, are they on who's side? Are you [Rose begins giggling] -- This is not a new question for you.

Leon Panetta: [Laughs along] No, it's not.

Charlie Rose: Okay, what's the answer? I mean, do you believe that this government, the United States government that you represent, has full cooperation with the ISI in terms of the battle in Afghanistan?

Leon Panetta: [Shaking his head "no"] As I've often said, it's a very complicated relationship with the Pakistanis.

Again, we doubt viewers were laughing along. (We weren't.)

Watching Charlie is to realize that you can say anything as a guest because there's no follow up on Charlie's part. The tight ass just can't 'wing it.' So although, for example, Panetta painted a picture of the administration which really left the impression that Barack is the Dead Beat President,the Absentee Leader, over-delegating and under-briefed, forever out of the loop, Charlie had no follow ups.

Charlie Rose is the paid leg who's invited inside because of his (current) position. And when his career is over and the invites dry up, he may have to explain being the court jester when he was presenting to the public as a journalist. If that day ever comes, we doubt he'll find it amusing.
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