Robert Gates On "Meet The Press": Beyond Tedious

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Apparently, I wasn't the only one in America who wanted to drive a hot steel spike into his brain watching "Meet The Press" host David Gregory interview U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this weekend.

Spencer Ackerman was driven to respond after he saw Gregory toss out one of the media's favorite, cliched questions for war-fighters:

GREGORY: Secretary Gates, you are a hard-nosed realist about this region and about this struggle, going back decades. Is failure an option in Afghanistan?

Yes. The hoary old, "failure is not an option, is it?" inquiry. A favorite of journos who want history to record that they asked the Tough Questions as Americans fight and die in foreign lands. Ackerman's response is pretty spot-on:

A real journalist would have replaced "an option" with "likely" or "probable" or "possible." Instead, Gregory essentially asked Gates to restate for the cameras how awesome he is and how they've got this shit on lock. "Secretary Gates, someone in your office emailed me pictures of you enjoying some intimate moments of hard-nosed realism, going back decades. And, sir, I am impressed. What's going to happen when you apply those weapons to the quivering terrain of Afghanistan?"

Of course, Gregory's line of questioning got even more insipid. Tossing out a rhetorical question -- even a well-worn one -- is a decent tactic if the interviewer doesn't think he's getting anywhere and wants to get his interviewee off his talking points and to maybe accidentally reveal something worth drilling down on. But as Gregory's line of questioning continues, it's clear that's not what he is doing. Check out the "follow-up question."

GREGORY: But you say failure's not an option. The president has said, "We will fight this fight and fight it hard only up to a certain point."

"And then we begin to transfer the responsibility to the Afghans," Gates replied, as if he felt the need to re-explain himself to a child who was not paying much attention.

Finally, convinced that failure was not literally an option, Gregory went on to ask the super-important question of whether staying on as Secretary of Defense was "a challenge." What was Gregory expecting as an answer?

This is basically why Gates spent the interview laughing, scoffing and admonishing Gregory ("And if you listened to what I said..."), as if the whole exercise was a waste of his time.

It can be astounding to watch America's manicured reporters attempt to get serious about war. I've long believed that the media is fond of repeating the well-worn phrase "Generals On The Ground," because it sounds like a tough, "I-know-what-it's-like-to-be-in-the-shit" way of referring to people leading our armed forces into battle, half a world away. In this culture of journalism, when a politician fails to use the word "victory" when elucidating his plan to escalate a war, this constitutes a scoop of significant magnitude. We shall defeat terror in our time, armed with the most resolute-sounding words in our thesauri, letting our enemies know that we will cling to our cliches unto death.

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