Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Television Saga of Capturing Osama

A friend and I were driving home from the movies last Sunday night when he turned on the radio and we heard the stunning news: the president planned to announce within the hour that the U.S had killed Osama bin Laden.

I was so excited when I got home I ran to several neighbors saying "Quick! Turn on the TV!! It's Bin Laden! We got him!" Some of my neighbors don't know me very well yet--so I'm pretty sure they now think I'm a nut case.  But I can't stand it when anyone misses a big story.  I guess I blanked out and thought I was back in a newsroom.

All of the coverage was fascinating:  Wolf Blitzer on CNN was, as usual, the calmest, steadiest, best informed, most unperturbed anchor of the lot, leading the coverage with real skill.  He lives up in Potomac, Maryland, and when he described getting a call Sunday night and driving into CNN's HQ, making calls to sources on route, I could picture him cruising along the Parkway using his hands-free speaker.  If he exceeded the speed limit, I'll eat my hat.

Blitzer was buttoned up, his tie was straight, and he did not expostulate--as he does not---which is such a relief.  He does, sometimes, speak ... very ... slowly ... as ... if ... he ... learned ... English ... as ... a ... second ... language.  But at least he doesn't blather.

He's the Sgt. Friday of news.

His colleague, John King, a very talented guy, looked, by contrast, as if he had been wakened from a  deep sleep and was not yet fully revived. Which may have been true. Reporters in Washington work really long hours, and nobody expects a call that the  lid is coming off at the White House on a Sunday night. Anyway, King spoke even more slowly that Blitzer, but, unlike WB, King had mislaid his suit, his tie, and all the color in his face. (Maybe the make-up lady had trouble waking up too.)

I honestly have to grit my teeth to click over to MSNBC because, except for my friend Chris Matthews, who always appears to be on crystal meth but who is a truly well informed guy--the rest of the lot are pretty scary.  By the time I got up the courage to watch their circus, I caught Martin Bashir for a few seconds.  He kept mixing up the names "Osama" and "Obama" so I bailed.  Bashir is best known for his interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in which she famously told him, "There were three of us in this marriage.  So it was a bit crowded." He also interviewed Michael Jackson.  Extensively.  Celebrity interviews being his metier--he should maybe stick with that.  He and Rachel Maddow do look a bit like they were separated at birth, however; so, he's at least at the right network for his skill set. He and RM can switch places and no one would be able to tell.

What is there to say about Fox?  The truly weird Geraldo Rivera was doing his regular weekend gig at the home of "fair and balanced"--why is he there, I keep asking myself?--when he was, apparently, the first one to break the news. "This is the greatest night of my career," he said.  "The bum is dead.  I am so blessed and privileged to be at this desk at this moment."  Since his career stretches from Al Capone's Vault through a very creepy talk show, I think his comment is the hyberbolic paradox of this or any other century.  And anyway--News Flash--it wasn't about Geraldo.

Rivera too got Osama and Obama mixed up.  But the story was just tumbling out of every leaking source in Washington--a sort of Superfund Site of leaks--on an otherwise sleepy Sunday night; so such slips of the tongue are understandable. Those names are not easy.  Slack should be cut. I guess.

I have thought of a way to solve that part of the problem in the future. We could stop calling the president of the United States "Obama" as if he were a one-named star like "Cher" or "Liberace."  News people might, perhaps, call him by his proper title, which is President Obama.  Or, if they want to be truly (d)emocratic, they could call him Mr. Obama, which is, at a minimum, right and proper.

But honestly, why don't we all just address him by the most accurate handle of the many that describe him.  Let's just call him Mr. Lucky, and leave it at that.

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peretzklein said...

Really nice piece! I see that television journalism still runs deep ;)

Robin Chapman said...

I'm still a news junkie and sometimes, on big news days, I miss being in a newsroom. Then Shepherd Smith (Fox News) or some other nincompoop on TV these days will open his mouth and I'll say to myself ... Nah!