A couple of years ago I got a call from a Washington Post reporter, asking for an interview. She’d seen some comment I made online about owning a product called TV-B-Gone, a keychain remote that can turn off almost any television, and was writing a story about the device. The interview didn’t go well. I mentioned using the remote at an Applebee’s, and becoming concerned that the waiters who kept turning the TV sets back on would find me out. The reporter would ask, “And were you nervous? Was your heart racing?” When I would dismiss this, saying getting busted with the TV B Gone would be no big deal, she would try again. “And were you nervous doing this? Was your heart racing?” Three times she tried this. I knew by the end of the conversation that, since I refused to say that my heart was racing, my quotes would never make the story (I never looked for it).
Recently, I’ve been listening to podcasts of 60 Minutes broadcasts. I hadn’t sampled the show since the mid-90s or thereabouts (when I was working on a caricature of Morley Safer – no internet for me in those days). 60 Minutes was a favorite show when I was a kid, maybe 5th and 6th grade, and if these recent episodes accurately reflect the quality of the program back then, I can see why. 60 Minutes is written on a 5th grade level – simplistic, sensational and emotionally manipulative.
Not that this was any great discovery. I knew these news magazine shows had always been junk, and any old Mike Wallace interviews I’ve run across of Youtube in recent years show clearly that he and his cohorts were TV personalities, first and foremost, not journalists (I think we can blame the TV format itself for that, but that’s a rant for another time). Still, listening to the past ten or twelve weeks worth of shows, I can’t help thinking the 60 Minutes episodes I enjoyed as a kid HAD to be more intelligent than this crap. My memory is notoriously unreliable, prone to nostalgic longings, but I feel pretty certain what I’m hearing now is a downgrade from anything Harry Reasoner presented.
But here’s what killing me. In every single Leslie Stahl report – every single one – Leslie asks the person she’s interviewing if their heart was racing. Was your heart racing when you heard the judges’ verdict? Was your heart racing when Timmy came out of the coma? Was their heart racing when you realized you’d discovered the missing genetic link that could cure tendonitis in elephants? It’s like a verbal tick for Leslie. “Oh my gosh, was your heart racing?” Sure, they all agree. My heart was racing. Chances are good their interviews would never have made it to air if they didn’t confess their racing hearts. And all the 60 Minutes newsgabbers have some variation of this. “What was going through your mind?” Steve Croft will demand. “You must have been terrified.”
Yes, you MUST have been terrified…if you ever hope to get on the tay vay. Are these guys doing news interviews or casting for Hamlet? It seems a certain measure of quotable angst is required for every news story, even for that lowly WP reporter grinding out D-24 fluff about remote controls. This kind of blatant emotionalism makes my blood boil. In fact, you might even say…
Nah, I wouldn’t say that. Not even for Leslie Stahl.