Within the past couple of hours, Governor Rod Blagojevich was ousted from office by the Illinois state senate. I’ve been a fan of Blago ever since his scandal hit the national airways. I’m also a major fan of MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. So it was with great anticipation that I tuned in last Tuesday night to watch Rachel interview Blago.
The interview had a mixture of toughness and sympathy. Blago behaved as though he had found an open minded journalist with whom to make his case. Overall, I was impressed by the interview. I felt that while Rachel asked some hard questions, she also reacted empathetically toward some of Blago’s responses.
Then the segment went off the rails. When the interview concluded Rachel gleefully asked her audience whether or not Blago further incriminated himself with some of his answers. She then went the next step and interviewed a former federal prosecutor (who had once prosecuted Timothy McVeigh) to see if he agreed that Blago had made matters worse with the interview.
It’s one thing for a journalist to enjoy a scoop. It’s another thing for her to lull her subject into a sense of security and then exploit his candor (or BS depending on your perspective) for a huge gotcha finale. Rachel seemed to revel in the possibility that her interview might be entered into evidence in the criminal trial that is on the horizon. Quite frankly, I was creeped out by the pleasure she took in this man’s misfortune.
My feelings were only compounded after I watched Barbara Walters interview Blago on ABC’s The View. With Barbara, there was no pretense of sympathy. With an almost mocking smile, she demanded that Blago come clean and she basically told him he was wasting everyone’s time with his evasive answers. If Barbara had then turned around and interviewed a prosecutor about Blago’s responses, I would not have been surprised. Blago knew at the end of the Walters interview that it did not go well (ok … maybe he didn’t, he is a bit delusional after all). But with Rachel Maddow it was another story. Blago left that interview thinking he had a chance to state his case and then Maddow turned around and stabbed him in the back.
All I want from journalists is consistency. I’m from the Mike Wallace school of journalism where if the goal of the interview is to eviscerate the subject, then the process is clear and unambiguous. When Mike has finished with you, your guts are spilled all over the floor. Rachel’s mistake, from my perspective is that she turned a non-gotcha interview into a gotcha interview after the fact when the subject was no longer there to defend himself. Perhaps I’m also bothered that Rachel wanted to be part of the story. That is a phenomenon that is happening way too often lately, where news reporters and commentators want to BE the news instead of report on it.
Despite Rachel’s efforts and those of the Illinois senate, we haven’t heard the last of B-Rod. He will continue to entertain us right up until they put him behind bars.