“Hard-hitting.” It’s an adjective. And, if you’re a journalist, it’s a compliment.
“Self-serving,” “arrogant,” “cruel.” These are also adjectives. And, if you’re a human being in any line of work, they’re not compliments
Even “hard-hitting” is a little over-rated, because in most cases the journalist who conducts a hard-hitting interview elicits information no more valuable than does the soft-hitter, especially if the interviewee is a politician. Politicians are hard-hitters, too. They know how to handle a reporter. They are not going to say something they do not want to say, whether the interviewer is Mike Wallace or Caspar Milquetoast.
Wolf Blitzer may or may not be a hard-hitting newsman by temperament, but he played one the other day on television. The performance was a success. It was also a disgrace.
Blitzer, a CNN anchor, was interviewing Dennis Kucinich about his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The campaign has been less than successful. Kucinich is a single-digit candidate in a double-digit competition, and a low single-digit candidate at that.
It is, thus, perfectly reasonable for a journalist to ask Kucinich about his desire to dwell in the White House, and why he soldiers on despite unanimously unimpressive showings in the polls and primaries. It is not reasonable, however, to attack the man, as if his persistence were somehow a felony. He is not a “get” like Michael Jackson, accused of molesting children. He is not a “get” like Robert Blake, accused of murdering his wife. He is not a “get” like Pete Rose, accused of compromising the integrity of the national pastime. Kucinich is, in fact, not a “get” at all. But Wolf Blitzer got him, in a performance that suggested Blitzer is far more of a bully than a journalist.
Blitzer asked Kucinich why he is such a loser. Not why his campaign does not seem to be attracting more support—a fair way to put it. Not why his poll numbers are not higher—a fair way to put it. Not whether he thinks the odds against him are too great—a fair way to put it. Blitzer asked Kucinich why he is such a loser—a self-serving, arrogant, cruel way to put it.
Self-serving because, as Jay Rosen points out in an on-line publication called PressThink, the question was “asked not for the benefit of the viewing audience. It is not for voters’ ears, either. Blitzer asks it for reasons wholly internal to his profession, and the only interest served, I think, is the journalist’s.” Blitzer asked the question, in other words, to show off, to demonstrate to his fellow members of the press corps that he is hard-hitting.
Arrogant because Blitzer so clearly put his own agenda above that of his audience. By phrasing his question in such insulting terms, Blitzer virtually guaranteed that Kucinich would not provide an answer so much as a defense for himself. The mystery—if it is truly that—of his ongoing efforts to be president would remain.
And cruel for obvious reasons. A person who loses at the ballot box loses only in the political arena. Those defeats do not make him a loser in life; in fact, the ability he has previously demonstrated to attract a certain measure of support and a certain amount of financing indicates that there are thousands of people who think of him as a winner.
Blitzer is not alone in his hard-hitting approach to journalism. There are many others who practice it these days—more all the time, it seems—including some at my own network. It is not to be excused no matter who the perpetrator is. And it is one of many reasons that the public is so disenchanted these days with those who commandeer the airwaves to inform them.
Blitzer hosts a daily program on CNN from 5pm to 6 pm. Most afternoons, Fox News Channel’s John Gibson beats him in the ratings.
Why are you such a loser, Wolf?
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. He is the author of several books, including The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol (Temple University Press, 2003).