Friday, March 29, 2013

So long (I hope for only a little while) Soledad O’Brien. And please, please don’t stop doing what you were doing.

I was shaving this morning when, from the next room, I heard Soledad O’Brien say farewell on her morning CNN show. Her gig there is over.

You barely needed a pulse to be aware, for several weeks, that it was coming. It had been all over the news. But for just a minute I turned off my electric razor to listen. The emotional sensation was something like squeezing the hand of an old friend who is about to be wheeled into a room down the corridor for neurosurgery. Will she survive?  Will what makes Soledad uniquely Soledad survive? Will she resume what she was doing somewhere else?

As you might gather from this, I like her, although to tell you the truth, I grew to like her slowly, and perhaps even a bit grudgingly.

She had been less than a major player at NBC, where I’d occasionally catch her and surf past her. When she showed up on CNN, sometime back in 2005, I was underwhelmed.

Her voice sounded squeaky to me. Perhaps something sexist still lingered in my own verge-of-dotage view of the world. But what I thought is, “They can’t be serious. She’s a minor player who sounds like Minnie Mouse.”

Minnie Mouse indeed! As she proved, interview after interview, she was the mouse that roared. No, I take that back. She was truth’s tiger. Just take a look at this interview (below) with John Sununu, in the role of a Romney Campaign propagandist, during the last election

Among all the people who conduct interviews on television, O’Brien is the only one I can think of who regularly pushed back against the baloney and unabashed falsehoods that political spinmeisters too often get away with. Others made an effort to do this on CNN and other networks, too, but particularly against seasoned pros who lie for a living, the efforts have been mostly puny.

On the other hand, trying to get a lie past Soledad O’Brien must be like trying to throw a pork chop past a starving hyena.

She clearly did her homework before each interview. And when the politicians threw out their fastball lies, she caught them and threw them right back at the politicians. Sometimes they’d ignore her contradictions and try to talk over her. She wouldn’t put up with it. She kept at the liars, confronting them with what the real facts were.

That’s just the opposite of what most news interviewers appear to be doing these days, letting the lies sail into the camera and also into the public consciousness. Too many interviewers, either under-briefed or under-aggressive, simply move on to the next question somebody has listed for them to ask.

O'Brien's morning competition couldn’t, or didn’t stop their interview subjects from lying. Matt Lauer, for example, doesn't seem to know a straight-shooter from a curveball pitcher. At least, not that I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I've asked myself, 'Where in the world is Matt Lauer?" not when he was doing one of his travel features, but when he was doing studio interviews. Even some of the “serious” Sunday morning interviewers like Bob Schieffer have either let the lies fly by like floating creampuffs, or offered such agreeably gentle questioning of what his guests said that you could easily miss that there was reason to be dubious..

Evidently, Jeff Zucker, the infotainment executive who was behind the Today Show for many years before moving to CNN, has something else in mind for CNN. I am not pleased, although not ready to beat Soledad’s replacement into the mud before she even starts, as at least one blogger has. Let’s at least give Kate Bolduan a chance before we kick and stomp her.

That said, I suspect Soledad will be hard to replace. The truth needs to be respected, and Soledad is among the few broadcast news interviewers who unequivocally know how to respect truth with tenacity.

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