Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nightline running out of lipstick

I have long thought of Terry Moran as one the very worst that network news had to offer—a partisan hack who editorializes wildly, exaggerates, adds false narrative, and peppers his voiceovers with more clichés than a .28 caliber shotgun shell has pellets. He’s neither a gifted writer nor a skilled interviewer, and went so totally native while covering the 2,000 Bush campaign that he often did his stand-ups wearing an elephant mask and a coconut bikini (OK, maybe not the bikini). I dismissed him years ago.

What I can’t dismiss is how quickly and brutally Terry, his co-anchors, and his producers have massacred Nightline, the show Moran now co-hosts with Cynthia McFadden and Martin Bashir. McFadden and Bashir certainly share in the ruination, but I want to talk about the first segment of the February 15 show, hosted by Terry Moran.

Moran talks us through Wednesday’s damage control appearance on FOX by Vice President Cheney because it is important we see the clips through Terry’s eyes. Moran keeps referencing the emotion—“a clearly emotional Vice President,” “a side of Dick Cheney we’ve never seen”—but I am watching, and I’m not seeing any of that. Cheney is recounting his shooting of Harry Whittington in deadpan, constantly looking away from interviewer Brit Hume—he even affects one of his patented sneers. It was clear to me that Dick was without real emotion, and it was very possible, I think, that he was exhibiting the posture and habits of someone who was lying.

But Terry would have none of that audience participation, and he wasn’t going to have us take his word for it, either. No, Moran summoned longtime Republican heavy Ed Rollins to repeat that Cheney was (I’m rough-quoting from what I just saw) “as emotional as I’ve ever seen him,” and “clearly repentant.” Again, I saw the interview (and you can, too, over at C&L), and Cheney wasn’t any of those things.

But wait, Moran proves who his friends, I mean, cronies, really are. Still afraid this story might live past the Veep’s forced confession, Moran starts in on the true villains here. . . those annoying White House reporters. . . who actually—get this—have questions. We are shown a montage from Monday’s gaggle with Scottie McClellan—little clips of reporters looking frustrated, demanding, even, as they start to ask questions. But the Nightline editors never allow them to finish the questions, so we don’t know what they’re asking, we only perceive that they are demanding. Moran even sells out his own ABC colleague, Martha Radatz, showing her looking especially dissatisfied, but again, not actually playing her whole question. (Does Radatz or any of the real newsies at ABC know about this?)

No, instead, Terry lets his real friends do the talking. First it’s Rawlins again, stating that this Cheney appearance will put an end this issue. (It just will, got it?) And, so we can get a diversity of. . . gender (thought I was going to say “opinion,” didn’t you?), Nightline then shows a clip of Torie Clarke—former Pentagon communications chief under Rumsfeld, former aid to Senator McCain, and author of a new book, Lipstick on a Pig—basically warning the press to back off, and stating outright that the Democrats will lose credibility if they politicize this.

So, Moran and Nightline (which, by the way, completely ignored this story on Monday) don’t report here—they predict, in fact, state that this is over, and if you don’t agree with them, then, woe unto you, you are politicizing it.

Tonight’s show contained no reference to any of today’s revelations about drinking (Cheney admitted drinking a beer during a barbeque lunch, and doctors treating Whittington abruptly ended a press briefing when asked about whether a blood test was done—there is a bunch on this at firedoglake), no discussion of Cheney’s ducking questions about “declassifying” the NIE for Scooter Libby, and no clips of Democrats on the Hill raising questions about the Vice President’s secrecy. No, there was no one even resembling a countervailing point of view anywhere to be seen. There were no other journalists, no Democratic advisors, not even a semi-centrist pundit type, just Moran and staunch Bush/Cheney allies Rawlins and Clarke. Shameless. Embarrassing, really.

I’ve read—and friends in the biz tell me—that the real plan all along has been to sabotage Nightline and give ABC the freedom to replace it with a late-night variety show like Jimmy Kimmel Live, the show that follows Nightline in most markets. Well, I gotta tell you, I believe in having a hard news alternative after the local news, but for this entire week, the harder-edged reporting on the Cheney gunplay has been from Jimmy Kimmel. I am completely serious. For instance, Kimmel thought the Veep seemed robotic during Wednesday’s interview, and he had the best piece of commentary I saw on broadcast TV all day: “Bold choice, Cheney sitting down with FOX news—it’s like Mrs. Butterworth sitting down with the pancake channel.”


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11:52 PM  

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