Barbara Walters Falters
On the night before Thanksgiving, just an hour after Rosie O'Donnell had publicly belly-flopped with a horrible attempt at an old-time variety show on NBC, Barbara Walters made a fool of herself interviewing Barack and Michelle Obama. The toughest questions dealt with whether there was enough "change" in his cabinet picks, and whether he was "waffling" on tax hikes for the rich - questions his (and ABC's) liberal base would enjoy.
Let's go back eight years. On the Friday before the Inauguration, Walters interviewed then-President-elect George Bush and his wife Laura. But it was only one part of a routine "20/20" hour, and she brought harsh questions to carve up Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft as a divisive disaster.
This time, the media's favorite won. The Obama interview drew a whole hour, which Walters promoted with a gooey splash of Obama fawning and interview clips all across the ABC News schedule. She was so ubiquitous one might have expected her to plug the Obamas in a cameo appearance on an ABC soap opera like "All My Children."
On "Good Morning America," she couldn't help herself: "I don't want to gush. They're very cute, and very funny in this interview together." That's certainly in the eye of the beholder. Those inside the Obama tank naturally find their rehearsed marital patter to be incredibly charming. Republican households see a stale rerun of their fake-bickering, just as Democratic households undoubtedly saw the Bushes' marital patter as less than "very cute."
Walters showed footage of some of her dumb questions, such as asking Obama whether Wall Street executives should grant themselves a Christmas bonus. She also asked how he felt when he read that the three CEOs of the car companies took private planes to Washington to ask for a bailout. Naturally, Obama thought it was shockingly out of touch.
Stop the tape. Earth to Walters: Did it ever occur to you that Mr. Obama campaigned all over America by flying on a huge private 757 jet, painted as a vehicle of "Change" with a half-million dollar makeover for the general election, complete with Obama logos sewn into the headrests? And how do you suppose Ms. Walters travels? By carpool? What sheer hypocrisy - on both their parts.
Walters continued the gushing on her daytime show "The View." Doing her usual tap-dance of faked objectivity, Walters cooed: "I'm supposed to be very neutral, but they are the most appealing couple, and so smart." It's easier to look smart when no one's asking you a brain teaser. Walters shamelessly tried to sell the interview as super-substantive. Obama was asked about a range of matters foreign and domestic in the first twenty minutes, but all with a deeply deferential style.
She began by asking "What is your biggest fear?" That's a blank canvas for a politician to paint any way he or she likes.
Walters explicitly compared the Obamas to the Camelot swoon over Jack and Jackie Kennedy, and their "youthful embodiment of style, substance, and hope." Much of the hour was devoted to softballs. How would the Obamas spend Thanksgiving? How about the search for a new family dog? How will it be watching their grade-school-age girls grow up in the White House? The toughest question on the home front was the Obamas' choice of a private school. Walters simply declared "Tell us why private school for the girls, and not public school." She could have asked it this way, too: "Tell us why a black child in southeast D.C doesn't have the choice of a fancy private school like your privileged daughters because you oppose vouchers."
The sugary sweetness never seemed to end. Walters also reprised her free advertising copy on the Obamas in a preview on "World News" in the dinner hour - they were again described as very candid and very funny. A half-hour after the Obama special ended, "Nightline" reran clips, and Walters dragged out the megaphone of praise yet again: "When you see him with his wife Michelle, he is so relaxed, he is funny. I have rarely seen a couple as devoted, as together, whether they're talking about their children or the kind of dog they're going to get...They tease each other, but the respect that they have for each other is enormous."
All in all, it was one long day of ABC News shamelessly kissing rings. Like so many interviewers, Walters was not trying to build a factual record. She was trying to create a grand and glorious Obamalot myth, incessantly urging the public to buy her super-smart-cute-and-funny couple as the best choice history could have mustered.