Thursday, August 5, 2010

Last week and next week on This Week

I watched the first ABC News “This Week” show with Christiane Amanpour as the anchor. I have to admit I didn’t watch the interviews with Nancy Pelosi and Robert Gates. There’s nothing unusual in that: I rarely watch the interview segments on This Week preferring instead to watch the round table discussion and what follows.

I didn’t care for Amanpour. She seemed jerky and unfocused in the round table segment, reading from a list of prepared questions and not really responding to - or adjusting to - the answers she got. On the other hand, I wasn’t crazy about Jake Tapper when he first took over the anchor’s chair either and once he got his feet under him I liked him a lot. So, yes, I would like Tapper back but I’m willing to concede - however grudgingly - that it’s too soon for me to write Amanpour off. And I can’t help but think it would be awfully nice if one of the Sunday morning political shows had a woman as an anchor.

I did hate the new not-at-all-round table used for the round table segment. It’s not just that it’s awfully ugly; it’s that it looks like Amanpour is screaming “I’m In Charge Here.” The participants don’t face each other; they face her. I suspect I should be grateful that someone prevented whoever designed the new set from going with what I imagine their first impulse was: setting up a lectern for Amanpour and those cute little chair-and-desk in one student arrangements for her guests.

And speaking of chairs, if Amanpour is going to continue to have Paul Krugman as a guest she’s going to have to find one and the accompanying whip to keep him from talking over those with whom he disagrees. I’ve tended toward this opinion for quite a while now but watching Krugman uncaged (so to speak) has convinced me that while he is an intelligent man, he has long since passed the point at which his ability to think coherently has been fatally damaged by his ideology. I do not believe he is any longer capable of seeing any facts that contradict his world view.

Almost all of us suffer from this to some extent, of course: we see and hear information that supports our beliefs and filter out or denigrate information that doesn’t. I think Krugman has gotten to the point where he cannot perceive any facts that contradict his beliefs and, worse, if you pointed this out to him, his response would be that no such facts exist. We’re all lucky he’s not an engineer.

And then there’s Amanpour’s change to the “In Memoriam” segment. Under George Stephanopoulos and subsequent anchors, the notable dead would be reviewed and then the moderator would say:

This week, the Pentagon released the names of [however many] servicemembers [or soldiers and/or Marines] killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The names of the servicemembers who had died would then appear on the screen. (I want to sidetrack here and say that I deeply appreciated the fact that no servicemember’s name ever appeared on the screen by itself so long as there was more than one death. If there were nine deaths, we saw three screens of names with three names per screen. If there were ten deaths, we saw two screens of names with three names per screen, then two screens of names with two names per screen.)

Amanpour changed the lead-in to this:

We remember all of those who died in war this week, and the Pentagon released the names of [however many] U.S. servicemembers killed in Afghanistan.

The change in lead-in is jarring simply because it is a change. If there had been no segment referring to United States servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and Amanpour had started one using the lead-in she used, I doubt it would have caused a ripple. It’s the fact that she elected to change the lead-in that raises the questions: Why did she do that? What message is she trying to send? Is she not showing proper respect to United States servicemembers by lumping them in with all the dead from all the wars in the world?

Tom Shales is particularly unhappy with Amanpour’s change and asks:

Did she mean to suggest that our mourning extend to members of the Taliban?

I think Shales is reading way too much into the change, jarring though it was. Amanpour made her bones as an international correspondent and I imagine that maintaining a non-United States centric image is going to be part of her schtick. Referring to all the war dead is part of her “I see the whole world” persona. She needs a new writer, though: the “and” in her lead-in verges on dismissive. She would have done better to use a brief pause in place of the “and”.

A new segment called Amanpour’s “Picture of the Week” made me chuckle. It was introduced as images of people all over the world trying to escape a scorching summer brought to us courtesy of global warming. But the pictures didn’t look like people in dire straits due to an environmental disaster; they looked like people having a lot of fun with summer heat and various forms of water. If this segment was supposed to convince us we were facing a fiery crisis, it failed miserably.

Finally, to return to the round table, I thought this exchange between George Will and Paul Krugman suggested a possibility for Amanpour’s next show:

WILL: Lest it be thought that Paul and I agree on something, let me...

AMANPOUR: Well, you might. Maybe this is a rarity today.

WILL: No, this is not the case, because Paul thinks the government is dangerously frugal at this point, and I do not think so. I side with people like Kenneth Rogoff at Harvard who say there is time for austerity, and this is it.

KRUGMAN: Well, you know, we can...

AMANPOUR: That's happening in Europe, as you know...


KRUGMAN: That's -- yes, I think Ken Rogoff is doing some damage here with some pretty bad statistics. But...

If Amanpour is as smart as her fans believe she is, she’ll invite Kenneth Rogoff on the show next week. If she’s really smart, she’ll face him off against Krugman in the interview segment. Even I might watch that one.

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