Interview more about Gibson than Palin? I hope not.

Sarah Palin and Charles Gibson, courtesy ABCABC executives are counting the money this morning in the wake of huge ratings successes for World News Tonight, 20/20 and Nightline last week. This was not unexpected, for not only were a number of Americans interested in the subject matter of the programs, but every member of “the press” was watching.

The unfolding of ABC’s exclusive interview with Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin has been much more than a lesson in contemporary politics — it’s provided marvelous insight into how the press thinks and works, too. As much pressure as there was on Palin for this interview, there was a different — and I think an even more judgmental — kind of pressure on Charles Gibson. While Palin spoke for her party and to the American public, Gibson spoke for and to his peers. Atta boy, Charlie! Did he succeed? Did he fail? Who cares?

Jacques Steinberg’s piece in The New York Times sums it up nicely in the headline: “Palin Reviews Are In, and Gibson Got an …” And the analysis of Gibson’s “performance” goes beyond simple media reviews. Gibson was representing the press, a surrogate debater to balance the spin and hype of a politician. For the public, Sarah Palin was the content; for the press, it was Gibson.

Here are some other headlines:

Guess who was tougher: Sarah Palin or Charles Gibson?: Los Angeles Times
Clueless Palin Peddles Cliches Under Gibson’s Glare: Bloomberg.com
Gibson shows limitations of Palin in final sitdowns: Baltimore Sun
Gibson-Palin: Ratings Hot Despite His Chilly Start: Washington Post
Charlie Gibson is Utterly Alien: Heritage.org
Sarah Palin Wins the Tug of War with Charlie Gibson: National Ledger, AZ

It was as if the ABC News anchor was himself debating a candidate for Vice President of the United States. Is this what we want our interviews to be? Is this the mission of the press? Are we so cynical about the political process, that we “need” the press to be the real debaters? One article even asked whose performance was more Vice Presidential, Palin’s or Gibson’s. What? Interviews are now themselves horse races, with the rest of the press placing its bets and providing analysis.

Let me ask you this: what is the real relevance of Gibson’s performance for such an interview?

In my days as a news director, we’d all gather in my office and watch everybody’s news as part of our daily ritual. While much of it was competitive interest, there was always an unspoken hope for validation, too. And I think this is a very human part of being in the news business. We need to know that there IS something known as “the news” and that we haven’t missed it.

By snagging the Palin interview (Or was it handed to him? That question matters only to the press in its horserace coverage.), Charles Gibson became the focal point of much of the coverage from a press gathered around its collective TV sets to validate “the news.” Much is yet to be written about him and the interview, and then there will be stories about how it impacted his stature as a newsman and anchor.

The question is whether anybody besides the press cares.

Comments

  1. I hadn’t thought about the circle-jerk aspect of the focus on Gibson, so this post is interesting, thanks. I and my “tribe” have talked a lot about Gibson, but because of how the interview happened — the McCain people pulling her away from the press entirely until they were confident she would “be treated with deference and respect,” and then the question of how many caveats Gibson did or didn’t agree to, plus the tricky question of how to be tough without coming across like he was beating up on a girl. I’m too young to remember what, if any, issues of toughness vs. sexism came up with Ferraro ran for VP, so this is all new to me. I have read and understood the focus on Gibson to be more along the lines of the difficulty of interviewing a female candidate for high office, especially one whose campaign machine is running against the press.

  2. I tried to watch the interview as ‘objectively’ as I could. I think Gibson thought he was just as important as Palin. Body language, facial expressions and that classic look of disapproval over the glasses confirmed every criticism conservatives have about the MSM. I want the MSM to vet these candidates for me. I’ve argued with friends that Palin’s reception by the media has had more to do with her coming out of nowhere than a bias against her. But Charlie Gibson’s performance makes that a tough sell.

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