I must admit that I was taken aback when I recently watched an interview conducted by Christiane Amanpour, the new host of ABC-TV's "This Week," the long-running political talk show that airs on Sunday mornings. She was questioning Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Amanpour launched right into him. Representative of her line of questioning was when she asked him if congressional Republicans have doomed tax cuts for the middle class by "holding them hostage" to the demand that all of the so-called George W. Bush tax cuts be extended past their coming expiration at the start of 2011.
At one point, she set McConnell straight by telling him that a main concern of Americans is the mounting federal deficit, and that an extension of the Bush tax cuts would add trillions to it.
She didn't offer this as a competing theory among others, but as a natural and obvious fact that all but the misinformed take as a given.
McConnell gamely tried again to explain that most economists, and now even many Democrats, believe that raising taxes right now in recession is terrible policy. But Amanpour countered with some nifty analysis from another public policy organization that said if the Bush tax cuts continue into next year and beyond, the national deficit will eventually get so out of hand that many basic functions of the federal government will cease; moreover, that some of what we might call essential government institutions — Congress, for example — will no longer be able to be funded.
Well, maybe. But that assumes that keeping the tax cuts in place would not help generate revenue otherwise lost.
As McConnell tried to point out, an end to the tax cuts might actually work to curb government revenues, in part because many of the small business owners who are subject to this "tax for the rich" might just choose to pull in their shingles.
Oh, and about that recession. We can all breathe easier because it's now just an unpleasant memory. So said Amanpour, referencing new official numbers. So extending the Bush tax cuts is no longer necessary, if it ever was. So implied Amanpour.
Fair enough, if she wanted to present the news that the National Bureau of Economic Research has declared the recession officially over. But she also implied that the economic woes of Americans are largely behind them.
This likely came as quite a shock to many, probably most, of those Americans who were tuned in to "This Week" that day.
This was my first chance to see Amanpour in her new gig.
Primarily as a globetrotting journalist for CNN, she has made for herself over the years a reputation for being bright and relentless. But having seen the likes of David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson and, more recently, George Stephanopoulos, I couldn't help but muse on how those earlier "This Week" hosts had so ably negotiated the tight wire of objective questioning with commentary. (I think of Donaldson especially as one who could often come across as partisan, but who also kept a sense of proportion about the topics under discussion, as well as skepticism about all public officials.)
Against that standard, I found the Amanpour interview of McConnell a bit jarring.
Amanpour is, of course, just starting out in her new role at ABC, and it shows. She has far to go to match her predecessors as hosts.
McConnell seemed more amused than flustered by all this. He realized that he was participating in a mauling disguised as an interview.
To understand this in context, that is, to understand Amanpour's philosophy, one need only to read a recent newspaper interview in which she said essentially that she sees her journalistic role as one to hold public officials (or whomever) "accountable." But she also went on to say that she feels she has a responsibility to promote a better world through the advancement of concepts like social justice.
That's all well and good. But my guess is that many of us who have for years tuned in with our fellow political junkies to view a spot of good-natured political knockabout on Sunday morning might not be doing it as often anymore; that, thanks in part to Amanpour's aggressive, matter-of-fact style that often comes across as confrontational and smug.
I'm not even sure that she understands that what Congress must consider is not whether to award a new tax cut, but whether to keep the current tax structure in place, at least until the economy is stronger.
Still, for all the people who can't find work, or have seen their savings plummet, or who've lost their homes to foreclosures or their small businesses to lack of demand, there is this to buck them up: The recession is over! It's official now, declared as such by none less than Christiane Amanpour.
Matt Towery is author of the new book, "Paranoid Nation: The Real Story of the 2008 Fight for the Presidency." He heads the polling and political information firm InsiderAdvantage.
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