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Tilting at Windmills

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May 13, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

BEST AND WORST GUESTS....ThinkProgress links today to this year's survey by TVWeek about which guests TV bookers like and which ones they don't. Here's one category:


Leading vote-getter: Vice President Dick Cheney. "He doesn't give a s***. He's checked out," said one respondent. "I don't know what he does all day," said another.

Also mentioned: Former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore ("just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview"); Michelle Obama; Sen. Reid ("never does Sunday shows"); Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. ("very hard to book"); Bill Clinton; Hillary Clinton campaign manager Maggie Williams; Mr. Edwards; "someone who's actually in charge of the war."

After seeing Reid on the Daily Show last week I can understand why he doesn't do the Sunday talkathons. I've never seen a guest so reluctant to open his mouth and say something. Pelosi isn't as reticent, but apparently she's very high maintenance (typical comments: "won't come to the studio," "wants the grandeur of her Speaker's office," "the queen — spare me").

This is sort of unfortunate for the Democratic Party, isn't it? I don't suppose party leaders always have to be ones in front of the camera, but it would be nice to have ones who at least know how to play the game.

On the bright side, though, neither John Boehner nor Mitch McConnell even got mentioned in TVWeek's survey. That's even worse than being dissed, isn't it?

Kevin Drum 4:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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""just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview"

Yeah, shame about that. TV does such a good job of the long, serious, substantive interview format. I recall seeing one just last....
Uh, actually, come to think about it, I have never in my life actually seen a serious substantive interview on TV.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you can't blame any of them given the idiotic questions that are typically asked.

I presume that is why Inkblot has also spurned the Sunday talk show circuit.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 13, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid is a Mormon, right? BYU doesn't play basketball on Sunday, he doesn't play pundit ping-pong on Sunday.

I think it's funny that the take on Gore is that he is "unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview", like that's going to happen on Sunday morning.

Posted by: OriGuy on May 13, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't the politicians blog?

Simple reason, they are generally liars.

Posted by: Matt on May 13, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Are you really dissing someone for NOT doing the idiotic Sunday morning shows?

Wouldn't you heartily applaud the sanity of someone who didn't want to talk to Russert, Stephanopolous, George Will, Kokie Roberts, etc.?

Long interviews yes, with good journalists asking good questions - definitely. But how many of these bookers actually are booking for someone who actually knows what they're talking about?

Posted by: Samuel Knight on May 13, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Harry Reid not giving interviews is a blessing. If ever there was someone who comes across as ineffectual and powerless due to their lack of speaking prowess, it's him. He says half a dozen words, then backtracks and corrects himself, or nullifies any appearance of strength because he'll keep yammering in his weak little voice when he should just shut up.

Posted by: Joshua Norton on May 13, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie Rose has gotten Al Gore for the full hour more than once.

Posted by: PE on May 13, 2008 at 5:21 PM | PERMALINK

Come on guys, the funniest thing here is the "someone who's actually in charge of the war" answer because it says so much about this "no-accountability" administration.

Funny and sad of course, but I'm trying to laugh. The White House is just like "The Office" or "Office Space" on a governmental level.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh on May 13, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore ("just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview");

Yep, that's totally Al Gore's reputation -- a frivolous, easily distractable man with a short attention span, intellectually uncurious and unwilling to engage in long, serious, substantive conversations about policy and governance. Boy, those guys have him nailed to a T, for sure....!


Posted by: Stefan on May 13, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. ("very hard to book")

Apparently Rep. Pelosi treats everyone poorly, not just Cindy Sheehan and anti-war Democrats. Nancy is too busy making sure her Bay Area peers have enough parking space for their luxury cars to bother making a liberal Democratic platform understood to the greater public, which is probably just as well, since most voters do not have luxury car parking problems.

Posted by: Brojo on May 13, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: I don't suppose party leaders always have to be ones in front of the camera, but it would be nice to have ones who at least know how to play the game.

I'm sure I'm setting myself up for ridicule here, but I always thought that was Tom Daschle's strength when he was the Dem's Senate leader.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on May 13, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

"someone who's actually in charge of the war."

In previous administrations, this position was filled by someone with the title of Commander-in-Chief. Right now we have the title, but not much else.

Posted by: Stefan on May 13, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

I am still looking for that Sunday morning interviewer who does "long, serious, substantive conversations about policy and governance." If you find him or her, please post the name and network. The "interviewers" who show up on my TV Sunday mornings are either potted plants or People Magazine alumni.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 13, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

someone who's actually in charge of the war.

Like the War Czar? Remember him?

Me neither.

Posted by: thersites on May 13, 2008 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: name on May 13, 2008 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

I'll agree that the Sunday shows are as substantive as a Peggy Noonan or a Tom Friedman column, but it is a drawback for Democrats that more of their leadership are willing to go on those shows and do battle. A lot of "mid level information voters", in which group I include most pundits and more than a few elected Beltway Dems, get their news/talking points from Tim Russert and his Merry Round Table Band. And those that are willing to do those shows tend to be of the Joe Biden/Rahm Emmanuel stripe: DLCers (Emmanuel, Hoyer, Schumer) or (better? worse?) still campaigning for the position of John McCain's second-best bipartisan pal (Biden). Or poor old John Kerry. Bless his heart, he does at least try.

That said, the only thing that will save you from being mown down by Joe Biden if you get between him and a Sunday show camera is that "Independent Democrat" Joe Lieberman will have trampled you into the dirt before Biden sees the magical red light.

Posted by: Jim on May 13, 2008 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Also mentioned: Former vice president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore ("just unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview")

Horseshit. He was on Fresh Air last week for at least half the show. And FA is a hell of a lot more substantive than those crap shows on Sunday AM. I quit watching those during the administration of Bush the Elder.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 13, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Jim Webb would be about the best, but I'm sure the bookers don't like him because he's "too combative" or something. The real dirty little secret here is that the bookers only want Democrats who match their own expectations of fecklessness.

Posted by: Altoid on May 13, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

In addition to Fresh Air and Charlie Rose, Gore did Countdown and 60 Minutes. He probably just doesn't want to deal with questions like "What's your weight right now?" and "What motivated you to grow a beard?" etc. Can't say I blame him.

And contra Matt, I don't think lying is the reason, I think that they're afraid to say something and get in trouble.

Posted by: JoshA on May 13, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps the memory of how things were has faded. When Mike Mansfield was Senate majority leader the Sunday shows had to prepare two or three times as many questions as usual owing to his direct and short answers. Such as "No." Now guests just prattle on, and the audience expects it.

Posted by: rjoconnell on May 13, 2008 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

That survey was pretty funny. Perhaps by accident, it underlined the difference in how public figures whose position depends on lining up supporters (the Congressional leadership) and those with a reputation for specialized expertise of some kind (Biden, Specter, Dodd) approach the electronic media.

It also underscores a disadvantage Sen. McCain will have this fall. He will have a much harder time maintaining message discipline than Sen. Obama -- let alone Sen. Clinton -- would have. Obama has little difficulty staying on-message when he needs to, and displays no discomfort when doing so (he is also good about seeming to talk to interviewers even when he is ignoring their question. This is really hard -- Clinton doesn't do this well at all, neither do most others).

When McCain runs through his talking points on these shows he looks like someone taking his daily dose of fish oil. You can't campaign the way he is used to and rely entirely on memorized soundbite answers. In New Hampshire town meetings that works to his advantage; on network television, well, less. Over the course of the campaign -- God help us, it still has almost six months to go -- McCain's evident boredom with the message his campaign has decided it needs to get out will get him in trouble, probably more than once.

Posted by: Zathras on May 13, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

"There are other issues—the economy and gas and food prices, for example—but they are hard to do in the newsmaker format without (a) becoming too wonkish for viewers and (b) being dismissed as just more grounds for disliking the Bush administration."

Really? Is "making Bush look bad" an actual metric as to what news the MSM decides to cover? (Or more to the point, what not to cover.) What a sad state of affairs.

Posted by: raff on May 13, 2008 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

"Take away the right to say "fuck" and you take away the right to say "fuck the government.."
-—Lenny Bruce

Posted by: Quotation Man on May 13, 2008 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I am glad that neither Pelosi nor Reid are out front that much. They are not terribly effective advocates. Reid is especially horrible.

Jim Webb is much better. And even though I disagree with a lot of what Steny Hoyer stands for, he does a better job than the two more senior people do.

Posted by: Cap and Gown on May 13, 2008 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

It's unfortunate about Pelosi and Reid. But I can understand why Gore, (Bill) Clinton, and Edwards won't go on these shows. None are currently holding nor running for office, and they have a lot to say on their issues of interest that will get truncated and/or distorted on those kinds of talk shows.

Posted by: PapaJijo on May 13, 2008 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

Must-see, absolutely AMAZINGvideo of atrios being born!

Posted by: on May 13, 2008 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

Several years ago I saw Pelosi give the Dem response to Bush's State Of The Union address. It was a painful experience and I have no been a Pelosi fan at all since.

Posted by: tommy harper on May 13, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

I was going to guess "Satan", but Dick Cheney is pretty much the same thing....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on May 13, 2008 at 10:17 PM | PERMALINK

The story goes that Paul Hogan got his start playing the shovels. That is, he went on the Australian equivalent of the Gong Show, banging two shovels together; when the judges started to slag him, he slagged them right back, and rocketed to popular stardom.

What I wouldn't give to see the likes of Al Franken play the shovels with the Sabbath gasbags. He could just read Tim Russert's account of how he was played by Scooter Libby, and then ask him for his response.

Gore's smart. He knows he can speak to an intelligent, responsive audience more readily on Charlie Rose or the Daily Show than he can while being badgered by a Hugo Boss shitsack.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on May 13, 2008 at 10:34 PM | PERMALINK

Ha! That list looks like a list of people who are smart enough to be wise to the game-- they know enough to not want to get caught in (what has become) a ridiculous, standard mainstream-media interview.

Posted by: Swan on May 13, 2008 at 10:49 PM | PERMALINK

I would probably care if I watched the ratings whores. They dont care about realpolitik because its not profitable, so people have to suffer thru controversy creationists [tabloidists] who are concerned with ratings [moolah] and not the course our country is taking.

I dont know who to fault more, the people that watch this crud or the ones that produce it or the politicians who game it.

Posted by: Jet on May 13, 2008 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

Unless you know who was making those comments, it's ridiculous to draw any conclusions from them. Those shows stack the deck against liberals so badly it's not hard to fathom why so many of them wouldn't want to appear on them. As for the comment about Gore, that's just a total, utter load of self-serving crap. There aren't any Sunday shows that even purport to want anything truly in depth from anybody.

Posted by: secularhuman on May 13, 2008 at 11:26 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the scenario:
1) The media booker calls Al Gore's people for a one hour show to discuss how Al Gore wore earth tones to invent the Internet while serving as the inspiration for "Love Story."

2) Al Gore patiently explains that those are all lies, and asks whether they can talk about global warming instead. The booker says "Boooring!" and hangs up.

3) The booker then goes back to Rupert Murdock and claims that Al Gore doesn't want to discuss "substantive issues" with the media.

Posted by: RepubAnon on May 14, 2008 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

All those Dems should just find a true friendly forum- we should just get mega-dems on every Daily Show for two weeks straight, or something like that.

Posted by: Swan on May 14, 2008 at 1:09 AM | PERMALINK

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Generic Paxil Paroxetine drug is a newer class of antidepressant medication known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

Posted by: ser on May 14, 2008 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

Dick Cheney has "checked out"? He "doesn't give a s***"? This is great news! What will we do without a President for 250 more days?

Posted by: Bob Miller on May 14, 2008 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Ori guy. Mormons are real big on the family Sunday thing. If one tapes on Saturday, then he might be available. I don't think Hatch does a lot of them either for the same reason. (Not that he's really relevant any longer.)

Posted by: do on May 14, 2008 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Al Gore is "unwilling to do a long, serious, substantive interview"? Maybe what he's actually unwilling to do is a fluff interview or an interview full of gotchas given by someone who only thinks they're doing long, serious, substantive interviewing.

Posted by: lylebot on May 14, 2008 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

I used to work in TV and can attest from personal experience that the Democrats as a group have nothing to match the GOP media effort. No matter what the topic, the GOP had its "experts" lined up and ready to go, any where, any time. They would even pay for their own airline tickets to make somebody available for in-studio interviews. The Democrats were always poorly prepared, often couldn't provide a "go-to" person on important topics, often showed up late (I had a Democratic Congresswoman get lost on her way from her office to the Radio/TV galleries located on Capitol Hill, and show up 45 minutes late for a one hour live show)or cancelled at the last minute. When they showed up, they weren't prepared to use the format to their benefit. I couldn't prove it, but after watching them in action, I decided that GOP mouthpieces are given media training and Democrats aren't, or have to acquire it on their own. I haven't worked in TV for seven years now, but just from watching the end product, I don't think things have changed much. It's a real problem for the Democrats, who, election after election, have good candidates being eaten alive by a lazy, feckless, self-satisfied media. I used to blame it on the media, but now I blame it on the Democrats. If you know you're not being treated fairly, you have to develop a strategy to deal with it - and it has to be something besides whining. The Democrats have failed to do so, or the "Obama's a Muslim" and "Obama won't wear a flag pin" crap wouldn't have taken hold the way it has. The Democrats need to get their media act together, sooner rather than later.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on May 14, 2008 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

Jersey Tomato, you explained what I've been feeling.

Posted by: Bob M on May 14, 2008 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Well if they are going to talk about flags on lapels or Rev. Wright – why bother?

I like that DEMs are telling Murdock’s FOX debate “NO WAY we're attending that crap" – because FOX would not be substantive and alot of other news sources aren't any better, most noticeably ABC networks. (should be know as the “other” FOX news station, really.)

Why show-up to be disrespected? Al Gore doesn't bother with the peanut brains of non-journalist, spin only TV anymore and why should he? Why show-up just to be spit on. And with the poll numbers going like they are, the audience seems to heartily agree with this view point. Today's TV pundits share much of the problem the public has with the Republician Party, distrust and dislike. There are no more Edward Murrows, no more Walter Cronkites and the only guy who comes close is CBS's Bob Schieffer. Everyone else in business sold out their integrity long ago to keep their high paying jobs.

Posted by: me-again on May 14, 2008 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Jersey Tomato: what you say from the media side is what it looks like from the viewer side. They've been letting themselves get eaten alive. They seem to think media savvy is somehow phony or manipulative, as if Frank Luntz's way is the only way.

Organizing Democrats is like herding cats, but this is one area where Howard Dean and/or the DSCC and/or the DCCC are not only dropping the ball, they're stomping it and burying it under 50 feet of rubble. They really need to train and schedule. Luntz-like lying isn't the only way to use media patterns to get out your message.

This is one area where I used to think Obama developed a viable set of tactics, unlike any other leading Dem. We'll see about that as questions about Wright and flag pins keep resurfacing and resurfacing. But his framing of the gas tax thing has been a million miles short of even Mark Shields, who laid out a great comeback on PBS a couple of weeks ago. He's clearly been pushed off balance and needs to retake the initiative. Hillary, along with just about every other big-time Democrat, just can't break the old patterns. Sad.

Posted by: Altoid on May 14, 2008 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

me-again: Like it or not, the Democrats can't just say "I don't like the rules of this game, so I'm not going to play." They have to be in it to win it, as the saying goes. If I were in charge of communications for the Dems, I'd make sure nobody ever went on Fox, ever, because it is a lost cause. But I would make sure that we had people ready to go for other media outlets, and I'd train them to use the media's obvious flaws to their own advantage. Every time someone asked a Dem a biased question or made a biased assertion based on a flawed premise, I'd make sure the Dem knew how to reframe the argument to make the questioner look absurd and to get the right message out. I'd target one particularly egregious media figure (Russert would be my personal choice)and make him so afraid of lying or spinning to make Dems look bad that he'd involuntarily urinate a little bit at the very mention of my name. Complaining about "the media" is useless because the target is too diffuse. Targeting and taking down one really bad offender would work wonders, as would providing media training to all elected Dems to teach them to reframe all discussions with the media to their own - and the party's - benefit.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on May 14, 2008 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Jersey Tomato: you need get on the democratic payroll. right away. boy, did you nail it down.

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