Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chris Wallace vs. Fred Thompson on Fox News Sunday; Unnecessary Roughness?


A meeting at which information is obtained (as by a reporter, television commentator, or pollster) from a person. b: a report or reproduction of information so obtained


A usually verbal conflict between antagonists: altercation.

Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson appeared on Fox News Sunday this week in an "interview" with host Chris Wallace that normally would be considered a good chance to get his message out, but which became so testy that Fox News is still talking about it on other shows.

I am a big fan of Fox News Sunday, and Wallace is a good part of the reason why. But in this case I think Wallace went way overboard and his approach to the interview was so antagonistic it literally reeked of bias, real or perceived.

An interview by its basic nature is supposed to involve the interviewer asking questions, and the interviewee answering them. The key here is that the person being interviewed gets to answer the questions.

If the interviewer doesn't like the answer he got, or thinks there are more questions to be asked to get better information, then follow-up questions are fair and in order.

But sometimes, and this was the case Sunday, the interview turns into a dispute, far beyond the borders even of a debate, and the upshot is we get little in the way of real information. That, by the way, is the reason I watch FNS - to get information.

If I want commentators who wear their political biases on their sleeves and turn every conversation into an attack on a person or party, I can watch any of the network news programs, or cable outlets like MSNBC or CNN. There even is one show of that nature on FOX but I don't watch it because I find that kind of reporting to be obnoxious, condescending, pandering and a total waste of time for anyone who genuinely wants information.

Chris Wallace generally doesn't descend to this type of bullying behavior, and that he did this time is remarkable. He has done plenty of hard-edged interviews in the past, but always has taken up a lack of response to his initial questions by asking follow up questions, often prefaced with a statement that the interviewee didn't answer his question.

His approach to the Thompson interview begs the question, why didn't he do that with Bill Clinton? Clinton is as slippery a politician as you can get, he never really answers questions, or he flat out lies when he does. Yet, even though Clinton was steaming mad at Wallace after their interview, at least he got the courtesy of being allowed to give full answers, unsatisfactory as those answers may have been.

Maybe Thompson should have wagged his finger in Wallace's face as Clinton did.

One of Thompson's main points in his responses to Wallace, which often were incomplete since Wallace interrupted the answer, is that Fox News is "cherry-picking" polls and other information to make a point that his campaign is faltering.

Thompson noted that Fox News commentators Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer, both have opined that his campaign isn't going anywhere, while national polls put him second overall among Republican candidates. He indicated that political reporting on Fox does seems to fall in line with the predictions of its commentators, in essence creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wallace bristled at this suggestion, yet it falls in line with a column I wrote several months ago noting that many Inside-The-Beltway and Manhattan Island pundits, across the political spectrum, had already anointed Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the Democratic and Republican nominees respectively.

In one sense it could be that commentators from those areas know the local candidates better than those from 'flyover' country. These commentators could well believe that they have a better handle on the issues, and see Giuliani and Clinton as the strongest candidates.

On the other hand, some could just be lazy and hopeful that their sources of information are already intact and regardless of which of those two win, the Manhattan and D.C. media establishments will have little to no restructuring before them to continue their political coverage.

In the interests of full disclosure, I personally think Charles Krauthammer is one of the best columnists and commentators on the national scene, regardless of where he lives and works. He not only has an extremely wide area of knowledge and interests, he has a unique ability to cut through the fog of obfuscation that surrounds much of today's news reporting, and his opinions invariably cut right to the heart of the issue.

He also has a wry sense of humor, as evidenced by his comment on Barbara Streisand's jumping on the Hillary Clinton bandwagon after Oprah Winfrey announced she would be campaigning for Barack Obama. Krauthammer opined that maybe Clinton "is one of those people who needs people."

Get it? Streisand, People ... People who need people ....? Well, I got it and I thought it was funny.

Anyway, I read or listen to Krauthammer's opinion - in addition to many other commentators - because I am interested in his viewpoint, and he obviously has far better insights concerning national politicians who have worked inside the beltway than I do. But he does not dictate my opinions, he simply gives me more information on which to form my opinions.

That is exactly how it should work. But if Fox News or Fox News Sunday tailor the political reporting to help make those opinions come true, then Fred Thompson has a valid issue.

Regardless, he did not get the type of interview from Chris Wallace last Sunday that he should have and that Wallace gives to others.

Right after the Thompson interview, Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, with his half-assed glasses falling off his nose, was interviewed by Wallace on his stances on the Iraq War. (I swear, every time I see Levin on TV I get the feeling there should be a subliminal message "TERM LIMITS ... TERM LIMITS" flashing on the screen under his name.)

Levin throws more bull than the guy who cleans the stables, but Wallace didn't go on the attack mode against him! Why not?

Like many American voters, I have not decided on my choice for the primary voting next year, much less for the November presidential election. I am aware of the strengths of many candidates, and have heard some of the supposed weaknesses, many of which seem to be important to the media and some splinter groups, but will not ultimately affect my vote.

To make a truly informed decision I need a lot more information than I have right now, and one of the sources I turn to for that information is the media, usually Fox News ... OK, I get a lot from Rush Limbaugh too but this isn't about him. At least Limbaugh monitors his accuracy and reports immediately if he has made an mistake, which happens less than 2 percent of the time.

Before I vote next year, I want to hear what each candidate has to offer and when the time comes I will make up my mind accordingly. To do that I need unvarnished information to mix with the opinions of professional pundits.

Unfortunately, I didn't get that information from Chris Wallace on Sunday. It was disappointing to say the least. Entertaining to some I suppose, but ultimately disappointing.


James said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you address the insularity of the national media outlets based in Manhattan and Washington.

I did not grasp the scope of this until my senior year of college. At that time, Dateline NBC did an undercover series on food safety at major supermarket chains. It particularly put pressure on Safeway for shady practices.

The line I remember, "Dateline NBC found more than 26 different violations at this Safeway in Washington, DC".

Where was the Safeway that they cited? I expected it to be in one of the slums in Anacostia. It wasn't.

It was the Safeway on Connecticut Avenue, by Chevy Chase Circle. Many of the high-profile reporters live in Chevy Chase, DC or Chevy Chase, MD.

And so for the journalists, there is a sense to which the news is a story about them and their particular subculture and worldview, as much as it is a story of what happens in the community.

Incidentally, this is what's hampering their electoral predictions. They are viewing the race almost exclusively from a public policy perspective. They forget however, that public policy is a vector- a portion of what goes into someone's electoral decision, not the decision itself.

They also forget that numbers are fluid- look at how Hillary dropped after the fiasco with drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.

That misstep has eliminated the appearance of invincibility.

This has started the clock ticking on popular discovery that the emperor has no clothes- that behind the curtain is a little man from Kansas, not a wizard.

Right now it's anyone's game. The mass media wrote off Ron Paul and Chris Dodd too quickly, and is getting burn for it because of the kind of money Ron Paul is raising, I believe making his second only to Mitt Romney. He appeals to those on the right who have been disillusioned by the "big-government conservatism" of Bush and worry that the party has diluted its message and values for the sake of electoral issues. At the same time, his stances on foreign policy and free trade draw stances from unlikely places on the left. I would not write him off. Although I have yet to make up my mind, I will say that of all the republican candidates, he's the one who sounds the most like Bary Goldwater. There are some interesting possibilities due to the overlap between paleo-conservatism and libertarianism- enough to get him the nomination if he can successfully appeal to those two blocks of republicans.

I agree that the tone of political media has become far too shrill. For Politics of the 1960's, Lee Edwards had us watch the Kennedy-Nixon debates. Many of the kids were shocked that the politicians would talk for 5 minutes or 10 minutes at a clip. Now it's all soundbites 1 minutes or 3 minutes that gets condensed to 10-15 seconds for the news. Is it any wonder people have issues with their politicians?

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