Face the Nation Doldrums

Except for the Republican victors, political Washington has been a dreary and depressed place these days. The town’s political media has never been more devoid of imagination -­looking for new ideas but not seeking them out, wondering about new voices but making sure none of them get heard or seen in the papers or on television.

On Christmas Day, December 25, 1994, CBS’ FACE THE NATION took the cake for dreariness. Hosted by Bob Schieffer, the program assembled a panel of news reporters — taking to the limit the growing practice of the press questioning the press.

Four of the five reporters were from CBS News — Bob Simon, Bill Whitaker, Rita Braver and David Martin. The other was a reconstructed Joe Klein from Newsweek.

They were brought together to face a couple of million viewers and, in Schieffer’s words, “to talk about the year and next year.” Brace yourself for Dullsville. These reporters almost never see themselves as being free to say what they really know or think, to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Schieffer’s provides the first hint at the level of forthcoming incisiveness with his question to Rita Braver: “Let’s start with you, Rita. I would say that the most significant event of the year was the Republican sweep in November. How did that look over at the White House, where Bill and Hillary Clinton live?”

Rita replied that “they were shocked,” “they still have not recovered…and they are floundering now.”

To Bill Whitaker, who is covering the O.J. Simpson case, Schieffer asked what is presumably the common man’s question: “Is. this case ever going to trial?” Whitaker explained that “it seems like this trial has been going on forever already and it hasn’t really actually begun.”

Later in the program, Schieffer wanted to know why the O. J. Simpson case became “the focus of so much attention?” He turned to Joe Klein, the homogenized Newsweek pundit, who used to write tough articles on corporate power for Rolling Stone. Klein came through with these observations:

“Well, you know, there are very few times that we come together as a nation these days, and these kinds of bizarre trash-ball things like O.J. Simpson, and Tonya and Nancy — it’s one thing that brings us all together. . . .You know, we all used to watch “Lucy” at the same time. There used to be just three networks. Now we have 70 cable channels, and I think there’s a real desire on the part of people to come together in this way.”

Wow, Joe, it never occurred to me to have this kind of insight. Trash TV produces togetherness among the lonely crowd. Your commentary will lighten the hearts and consciences of the media moguls who have been filling our public airwaves with such social solidarities. A new rationale is born!

On a more global note, Klein said that what clearly came home to him more clearly this year than ever before “was the primacy of economics over politics, the fact that this is a global economy, that there is exploding growth in Asia and South America, and that the nations of the world are kind of rushing to catch up, to figure out how to deal in this world….Government hasn’t caught up yet to the new economic realities.”

You’ve missed the rest of last year’s story, Joe. Over a hundred governments knelt before the giant global corporations and approved the GATT/World Trade Organization which certified the “primacy” of corporate economics over democratic politics and, just incidentally, the rights of workers, consumers, children and the environment.

But then, no one on the whole program ever mentioned the corporate lobbies that have engineered the “primacy” of the corporate government over the political government here in Washington, D.C. Big Business is Big Government.

Never expect any of these Sunday talk shows, with the occasional exception of Tim Russert’s MEET THE PRESS, to even mention or question the role of the Exxons, the General Motors and the DuPonts in the nation’s capital. Matters of corporate crime, toxic and product violence to workers and consumer, taxpayer bailouts and giveaways to corporate welfarists and the buying and renting of politicians through business campaign money are matters of distinct disinterest on these shows — whether by the humdrum guests (Dole, Mitchell, Bentsen, Moynihan, P. Gramm and others in 1994) or the humdrum questioners.

Maybe Bob Schieffer felt the show was exceptionally humdrum even by conventional humdrum standards. At the end of the show he asked the reporters for predictions for ’95. David Martin replied “that the US military will end up in some country that not even Bob Simon has been to.”

Perhaps sensing that none of the predictions were very newsworthy, Schieffer ended with his Roman candle: “I think Newt Gingrich is going to run for president,” he forecast.

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