So, you're Charlie Gibson, and you land the first interview with Sarah Palin, would-be Vice President, a woman wreathed both in controversy and silence. You fly to Alaska to talk with her, which means not only have you had at least 10 days to be dreaming up a list of questions, you've also had a long flight on which to think, hooray, hooray, I'm the guy who landed the big interview, oh, what ratings shall we reap!
It's too bad that, apparently, Mr. Gibson had almost no other thoughts on that long flight.
The questions, so far, are bland, and the answers are worse. Maybe I was predisposed to think this interview was too soft, but I find myself deeply disappointed by the proof that a network anchor whose show is regularly in second place in ratings and who has been in the business for many, many years is conducting a less interesting, less relevant interview than what I'd see if Sarah Palin went on "The Daily Show."
Gibson, of course, tried a little to look like more than a cardboard cut-out of a journalist. He brought up that controversial speech at Palin's church... and then let her use his show to clear the air, to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Bravo, Charlie. There's cunning journalism.
Earlier, he'd tried to show a bit of backbone, too, claiming to be caught in a "blizzard of words" at one point and then continuing to press Palin for an answer on whether she believes the U.S. has the right to invade and attack Waziristan without Pakistani permission -- but when she finally did answer, her answer was that we have the right to do anything and to keep "all options" open when it comes to defeating terrorism. (The next question, by the way, should have been, "So... a nuclear bomb?")
Then, of course, there was the frightening exchange where Palin had no idea what the Bush Doctrine is, and Gibson politely let that slip through. Yes, yes, he gave a slightly pedantic definition after she flubbed it, but he didn't point out that she missed it -- nor did he explain the significance of the Bush doctrine. That's fine and well for those of us who study and dispise it, but not so hot for the average viewer of "World News," who probably thought she was right and he was dorky. A single line pointing out that the Bush doctrine reversed centuries of American foreign policy would have been a great addition, and would have neatly shown Palin and McCain, and Bush and Cheney, to be out of line -- right or wrong -- with the great swell of American history.
Alas, such critical thinking and reponse was not to be in this polite, scripted match up. Maybe I'm jumping the gun; maybe more substance is about to follow. There are still four segments of this interview to nowhere to go, as apparently Mr. Gibson's staff did a lot of thinking about how best to capitalize on his coup during that long flight. Pieces will be shown on "Nightline" this evening and on tomorrow's "Good Morning America" and "20/20," in addition to being displayed on ABCNews.com. I think, though, that ABC would have already promoted anything newsworthy -- their fear-mongering headline today about how Palin wants to attack Russia shows that they're betting with an empty hand.
The only good that can come of this interview, I think, is if Sarah Palin -- and John McCain's campaign -- see her coming off so nicely with Charlie Gibson that they decide she's really ready for prime time. Perhaps somewhere out there, someone's really ready to ask some meaningful questions. Is Jon Stewart busy?