One Ex-Nixon Staffer Installed, Two To Go
Diane Sawyer's getting tabbed for the ABC World News Tonight slot, replacing Charlie Gibson. I read nothing into Gibson's reported anger at Sawyer's choice as anything more than the usual professional infighting. But let's be clear why Gibson should be mad.
While this was decades ago, Diane Sawyer staffed for Richard Nixon and never really lost that mentality. Her performance grilling the Dixie Chicks will go down as one of the all-time low points in the history of journalism, with Sawyer acting as chief counsel for a Republican President, subjecting entertainers to a cross-examination for the crime of stating their opinion:
When Sawyer prompted the three of them to ask for forgiveness, in a gruesome moment of utterly fake primetime piety, the trio paused. You could see them struggling with their pride, their conviction, and their desire to get along; I was half-hoping they'd suggest Sawyer kiss their three asses (and I'd be surprised if the notion didn't run through their minds). Instead, Maines kept her cool and her dignity. "Accept us," she said. "Accept an apology that was made ... but to forgive us, don't forgive us for who we are." And she went on to point out, as if it needed to be said, that the practice of dissent is fundamental to democracy.
That wasn't good enough for Sawyer. She spent an hour trying to bend the Chicks with a combination of false sympathy and crass sensationalism. Time and again, she cut back to a typeset insert of Maines' original remark, as if Maines had called for the pillage of Crawford. "Ashamed?" Sawyer said, incredulously. "Ashamed?" In the tradition of a Stalinist show trial, the women were forced to affirm their patriotism and their support for the troops. At every point they—who are, after all, entertainers with no particular training in political science—were thoughtful, modest, and firm. At every point Sawyer tried to force them into a crude, Manichaen choices. "Do you feel awful about using that word about the president of the United States?" she asked at the start of the interview—in a prime example of the sort of leading question no self-respecting first year AP stringer would ask. "Well," replied Maines, carefully, " 'awful' is a really strong word." Later, when Maines was trying to apologize and clarify, Sawyer said, "I hear something not quite, what, wholehearted. …"
Well, I heard something not quite—what—honorable in Sawyer's presentation of the affair: an attempt to take a trivial matter that had blown up into an absurd controversy, and blow it up even more under the guise of simply covering the story. Essentially, she asked the women to choose between abasing themselves on national television or stirring up more hatred against themselves. It was a depressing moment in an ugly time.
For what it's worth, I have profoundly mixed feelings about the war, and if I were to sit down with Natalie Maines, I'm sure we'd have much to disagree about. But, just so you know, I'm proud that the Dixie Chicks are from Texas. What's more, I'm embarrassed that Diane Sawyer is a member of my profession.
Actually, I can think off the top of my head of a worse moment: Sawyer interviewed Al Gore about his book "The Assault On Reason," wherein Gore savaged the news media for focusing on trivialities and horse-race nonsense. And Sawyer decided to follow this up with a question about - whether Gore was running in 2008.
And so the "conversation of democracy" gets debased yet more.