Daniel Pearl Lecture: CNN's Wolf Blitzer and David Bohrman
During the first Gulf War, a new drinking game was born. Clustered around the TV at a graduate student pub at an undisclosed institution of higher learning on the east coast, folks listened with a half an ear to the vapid newscast while watching scuds fly through air. The last to yell “Wolf, Wolf” whenever Wolf Blitzer came on the air was shamed into buying the next round.
I say this not to highlight my increasing dotage, but to underscore how hopeful I was that things might have improved over the past twenty years. Last night, Wolf Blitzer and DC bureau chief, David Bohrman were guest lecturers at the annual Daniel Pearl Lecture to honor the young journalist murdered in Pakistan. Call me crazy, but I’d hoped that Mr. Blitzer might share some interesting insights on the state of journalism, world politics, media. Both of us have grown older, Wolf and I. He’s the leading political CNN news anchor. I’d be more than happy to lay down my adolescent sarcasm if he’d just say something intelligent.
The first thing I noticed was at least 80-90% of the audience had as much or more grey hair than I. My curiosity was immediately piqued. This was Stanford, for crying out loud. I spied a few faculty, but students were curiously absent. Could this be because the advertising (at least what I saw) was primarily through Stanford Hillel and online groups like SFBayJews? Don’t know. Mel Gibson was rumored to be on campus – which if true, was even more poorly advertised.
The evening presentation began with Blitzer announcing that today’s issues require complex analysis. We have to dig deeper, he reminded the audience, every day. I began to get hopeful.
The balance of the evening consisted of recycled CNN clips from the 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections, interspersed with the following insights:
1) 9/11 was on everyone’s minds in 2002.
2) In 2004, Iraq began to replace terrorism as the top priority in voter’s minds – even in NYC.
3) Barack Obama was elected president in 2008 and Wolf made the announcement on “Breaking News,” which appeared around the world to jubilant crowds.
4) Wolf is going to be on BET’s Soul Train awards.
5) In the 2010 midterms, the Republican took the house and the Democrats held the Senate. People were not as jubilant on election night.
With insights like this, it was little wonder that so many folks left the auditorium before the Q & A. Students were wiser than I in staying away.
If content and analysis were lacking, Blitzer’s warmth was not. Blitzer’s gracious courtesy towards his student hosts was palpable. One of the CNN clips he played was footage shown after Danny Pearl’s son was born. Pearl had authored a song for the birth of a friend’s son, and it was incredibly touching to revisit this clip, which CNN played after Pearl’s son was born. Glancing around the auditorium, my eyes were not the only ones tearing up. However, while the wizard proved he had a great heart, the brains and courage were still lacking.
In the Q & A that follows, Blitzer was given more than adequate opportunity to show a modicum of reflection.
A student tactfully asked whether Blitzer was ever torn about airing conflicting opinions regarding something he knew to be patently false. Blitzer side-stepped the questions entirely responding, that he had no place in the newscast other than to present both opinions, leaving the impression that he’s entirely OK with presenting opinions with a absence of fact. This seems to be the problem in a nightshell: a wealth of opinion, but darn few facts. After watching that question disappear into a mix of self-congratulatory pablum and evasion, I took a pass on asking his thoughts on how the political process is affected by the 24 news cycle.
After I got home, I poured a glass of wine and called a friend on the east coast. “Wolf, wolf,” I said. “Wolf, wolf.”