THE BLOG
05/05/2008 02:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Meet the Torquemadas

Some may have thought the major battle in politics is in Indiana tomorrow, but it really was the head-to-head battle between Tim Russert's Meet the Press and This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Each show had gotten a full-hour exclusive interview with the two Democratic challengers. And NBC and ABC News press departments were proudly beating their chests like a drum in triumph.

It was amazing that the Sunday before the biggest primary since the last one Hillary made herself available to sit down with George Stephanopoulos on ABC and Obama could find the time to sit down with Tim Russert on NBC.

What else might they be doing Sunday morning -playing golf? Taking the family out for the big brunch at IHop?

On the seventh day God Himself sat down for an exclusive on the original "Meet the Press," for reflections on what had been wrought, as it is written in NBC's view of the world.

The "get," as who has been gotten for interviews is called, is a big deal in the TV newsbiz. News people are hired by the size of their Rolodexes, a key to who gets the biggest gets, not their ability as journalists, as the history of TV journalism will attest.

For me, as I have foot in the door on the way out to play golf on Sunday mornings, wanting to add a little gray matter to my usual empty head drained from watching TV news during the week, it's not so much the "get" but what they get from the gets.

Tim Russert opened his chance to get more than a sound bite and the opportunity for an interviewee to speak in whole paragraphs -the function of Sunday morning intellectual ghetto programming -- with 17 minutes of questions about the Rev. Wright. I guess he was trying to show he was just as tough as his rival Stephanopoulos had been on the issue in the Battle of Philadelphia several weeks ago.

Question after question hit Obama with the accuracy of ducks being fired at in a carnival shooting gallery. The purpose of the interrogation was not clear. Obama had already confessed to being a dupe, an innocent bystander in the pew eleven or twelve times that I had seen.

After his triumph of nailing Obama to Rev. Wright's cross in his memorable ABC debate, I was surprised George did not ask Hillary yesterday morning what she really thought of Obama and his pastor five or six different ways.

Sometimes I think TV journalists just don't have enough possibly irrelevant questions. For example, why didn't George or other champions of third degree questioning ask Hillary where she stood on her husband's pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive pardoned for tax evasion on the last day the Clintons were in office. Carping critics remember that Denise Rich, the grieving millionaire wife, made substantial donations to the Clinton Library and Mrs. Clinton's senatorial campaign.

Pardongate actually may have more relevance to how a candidate might perform in office than what a wild and publicity-crazed pastor had to say while exercising his God-given right of free speech at the pulpit.

In the irrelevancy department, which has so preoccupied our electronic Torguemadas, I noticed Mrs. Clinton Sunday morning was not wearing a flag pin. Maybe it didn't match her pants suit. Neither was Mr. Obama.

For that matter, both George and Tim also didn't display the flag pin. Should I be questioning the patriotism of all four, I was thinking as I was testing my golf swing.

A few further thoughts about the struggle between the two leaders to capture the hearts and minds in the nation of golfers and other eggheads who still watch the Sunday morning ghetto shows.

A tough question George should ask himself is why he needed an audience for his exclusive interview with Hillary? I'm an old-fashioned guy who still thinks reporters are best when they sit down with a pad and pencil one-on-one and fire away.

With an audience George gave Hillary a chance to stand up and make believe she was delivering another stump speech.

And why did he as a reporter need e-mail questions from members of the audience? When you've gotten a big fish like Hillary on your line, who wants to hear what people like you and me think?

Talk shows need audiences not hard news interviews.

Stephanopoulos has been on the job since September 2002, when he had a mid-life crisis and decided to turn his back on politics and the Clintons and become a journalist. After a six year trial period, he still is number three in my book.

He doesn't have the physical stature, the presence on TV, the cohunes, required of an opinion-maker. The grapes roll off his plate. He still comes off more like he's being interviewed than the interviewer.

I prefer Bob Schieffer's basic police reporter no bells and whistles style on CBS' "Face the Nation."

But my favorite is still Tim Russert for my Sunday morning golf game warm-up hour. I have the sense he gets the best "gets." And nobody has more eye-popping aggressiveness and more solid evidence. "Here's what you said," Tim says. "Let's watch." Tim Russert is the Warner 'Let's go to the videotape" Wolf of the Sunday morning Torquemada League.
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