Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Palin Interview

Physics Geek is covering part of the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson that aired on ABC yesterday. I should expect this by now, but the partisanship of the ABC news staff really shocked me. One of the things the Good Morning America anchor desk focused in on was a wishy-washy answer about whether it would acceptable to cross an allied country's border without their permission in order to fight terrorists. Palin's answer was that in some cases (nuance, weasel, prevaricate), yes it would be.

At which point they cut back to the anchor desk who jumped down her throat. Cut to talking heads. The first talking head is a young blond I didn't recognize. She indicates that Palin's definite maybe is effectively the same as every other candidates on either ticket. Anchor desk rants about how that isn't true and Obama would never undermine an allies sovereignty. Cut to the second talking head, who is well known Democrat strategist and Friend-of-Bill James Carville. Carville points out that Obama actually did give that answer before and cited them chapter and verse. He takes the previous head's stance that we haven't seen anything surprising or newsworthy yet.

Now how far the left do you have to drift as a news organization when Democratic analysts are having to defend Republican candidates? It's sad that MSNBC has become the whipping boy for biased journalism, because there is a lot of blame to go around these days.

One other thing bugged me though. The interview format. Instead of airing the whole interview, it was aired in pieces. Gibson and Palin talking for a few minutes, followed by anchor desk coverage and "fact checking" about what she had said. Commercial, plug the section of interview to air in the next half hour, rinse, repeat.

I can understand why they aired the interview this way. They're breaking it up into bite-sized pieces for broadcast as part of a morning news program. They're also spacing it out to maximize ratings. But executed poorly, this format always strikes me as rhetorical ambushes. Palin is with the interviewer and on tape. However, because they're breaking the interview up and running commentary on each piece, the studio staff is essentially injecting itself into the interview as a third party. Palin (or whomever the interviewee is) can't rebut the studio comments and won't even know what they say about her until well after the fact. It can be an incredibly dishonest way to conduct an interview.

I remember a Howard Stern show back when he was still on E! and normal radio. He had a staffer interview Steven Curtis Chapman with a video crew outside of a concert, an awards show, or a charity event. I don't know which, but everyone was standing in a hallway. The interviewer would ask a question, Steven would give an answer, and then Howard would skewer him from the safety of his recording studio. It was incredibly cowardly. Not only couldn't Steven respond to Howard because he was on tape, but Howard had already seen the tape, so he could cook up his "on the spot" cutting remarks in advance.

ABC wasn't that bad. But good Lord they weren't that good either. If you're going to call yourself a news organization, you should have ethical standards that are clearly set apart from Howard Stern.

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