When Jack Cafferty cornered poor Wolf Blitzer on CNN recently and showed the clip of the Katie Couric-Sarah Palin interview and then launched into his panicky, now famous, oxygen deprived rant — “Have you ever seen anything like it, ever? Have you? Wolf? You there Wolf? Isn’t this unprecedented ditziness? Imagine? A heartbeat away? Wolf? You home in there Wolf?” — most Americans could identify with the Wolf Blitzer freeze.
It is stunning to see the emotionally charged hatred of the media toward Sarah Palin. Of course, Wolf had seen such moments of ditziness. Ted Kennedy cannot do interviews well. His handling of handpicked, family friend, Roger Mudd’s softball question in November 1979 cost him the presidency. It was a moment far more deadly than Cafferty’s desperately hyped vignette of Palin and Couric.
When I interviewed Ted Kennedy several years ago, all my questions had to be submitted in advance. When after the scripted interview he showed me around his office, I asked him something about his children’s drawings on the wall and the whole room froze in horror.
An unscripted question.
I can still see the daggers in the eyes of the staffers. I almost blurted out, “I withdraw the question; I withdraw the question. I didn’t know.” But we all lingered while he painfully groped for an answer. And I felt very, shamefully guilty.
Yet Kennedy now lays dying, after one of the most stellar careers in the U. S. Senate. He will rank with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun.
This is all about envy. “I am good on television, so why don’t I get to run the country?” It is the same sort of thing that comes out of Hollywood. “People want my autograph; they love me; I could have been president if I had chosen to go into politics. Sigh. And the country would have been so blessed for it.”
The fact is that Sarah Palin was elected governor of a state and has an 80 percent approval rating. She can learn how to give good interviews in 30 days. But no one can teach Jack Cafferty how to get elected to anything. Not in a year, not in 10 years.
If Bill O’Reilly had been asked Cafferty’s softball question he would have knocked it out of the park.
“What do you mean? Do you think that the American people are morons, Jack? Do you think they can’t see how you edited this segment? How you cut out the part of Katie’s question that equated the bailout to job creation and then showed the governor later talking about jobs, as if it were made up out of whole cloth, unrelated? What is this?”
In the end, the stunned Wolf Blitzer looked dumber than Sarah Palin. He was just frozen. “Wolf, Wolf, isn’t this something? Did you see the segment I just showed you Wolf? Ever see anything like it? Wolf? We’ll be right back folks. I gotta get some coffee into the kid. He is really very bright. Knows a lot about Russia.”
But Wolf was stunned dumb because of the crassness of Jack Cafferty’s partisanship. Poor brilliant Wolf, once one of the nation’s most respected Sovietologists, but still clinging to the idea that journalists should operate with professionalism and not be reduced to editorial room, ideological rowdiness in public.
Or course, Wolf was answering in his silence. “Unbelievable, Jack. How could you out me like this? Shouldn’t this be my decision? No yours? My timing, not yours? My issue, not yours? If you have no respect for our profession, Jack, have a little respect for me, personally, as your friend.”
The predictable gut reaction of the media toward Sarah is much as it was against Ronald Reagan, whom they typecast as a warmonger and racist. The public knew better and the more shrill and desperate the media became, the more the country saw through it and warmed to him.
Sarah will win tomorrow night and much of the blame in TV land will be laid at the feet of well intentioned propagandists like Cafferty, each trying to outdo the other in their contempt for her. Because Sarah is not good at their profession, they are assuming that she can’t be any good at her own either. Her 80 percent approval rating in Alaska should suggest that something a little more complicated will emerge from the Palin-Biden debates.
The media will be watching. Sarah, not Biden. He will be given a pass with the excuse that they already know about him. But if there is the slightest Sarah slip, we will see it endlessly looped; but if it is not fair, and the media is too involved in this to know when they are fair or not, then Sarah will win — not the media arrayed against her.
Doug Wead is a presidential historian and New York Times best-selling author. He has been an adviser to two presidents. See www.dougwead.wordpress.com.
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