Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Press Tour, Day Five: Charming Charlie

I feel like it’s taken me until now to get into the swing of press tour. I’ve asked a question in every panel this morning (which requires seriously fighting for voice time while figuring out which side of ballroom you are on from the perspective of the stage. This is hard for someone with a bit of directional dyslexia like me) and I’m getting better about the schmoozing and chasing down people after panels (chased down Donal Logue today and Ben Silverman yesterday, among others). After you cover Congress, you learn how to fight your way to the front of the press scrum like a pro (even if you are a short girl like me) and apparently it’s a skill you never forget.

This morning started with a panel with new ABC World News Anchor Charlie Gibson, who was available via satellite from Cypress, where the U.S. military is conducting an “assisted departure” of American citizens as opposed to an evacuation, Charlie said. The big news from this panel was that they are changing the name from – stop the presses! – ABC World News Tonight to ABC World News with Charles Gibson. The difference, in case you didn’t pick up on it, is that World News is now available all the time via podcast, webcast and every other kind of cast, so it’s not World News TONIGHT but World News All the Time. But that was a little long and obvious, I guess. Some intrepid reporter also took up microphone time by asking why it’s with CHARLES Gibson and not Charlie Gibson, which is what everyone calls him. OK, true, but do we really care? In any case, the answer is that he signs his check Charles and he’s officially and legally Charles. Good that we’ve got that important issue settled.

Still, I was really impressed with ole Charlie. He managed to be charming and charismatic even via satellite, which is no easy feat. One of my NY Post editors (and I’m gaining more and more of those the longer I work with them) said that an old friend of his, Shelby Coffey, who started the Washington Post’s Style section, once said that it takes someone special to jump through the camera and make you feel like s/he is your friend and Charlie Gibson is one of those. That’s why Charlie, et al (Katie Couric) gets the big bucks. That’s actually totally true. Oprah is the queen of this. She’s all into big issues and she’s smart and all that, but what she really gets paid for is her ability to make every woman in America think she’s her best friend, all through the cold lense of the camera. It’s no easy feat, especially considering that many of these people (Oprah and Katie among them) are known for being nothing like their onscreen personas backstage.

Charlie sort of answered one of my longstanding questions: What the hell do anchors do other than read the news off the teleprompter? I still think that’s mostly what they do, but he argued that anchors should travel to foreign places – like Cypress and Jerusalem – during international crises because of the perspective they can gain, contacts they can meet, and the immediacy that all gives to the nightly newscasts. He said all that while being sure to credit the bureau chiefs that actually are doing the reporting and know what they are talking about, so I think that was a realistic answer.

He also talked about the perception that he is politically neutral, and then discussed what he thinks is the biggest political problem of the day: Congressional districts that are gerrymandered so as to assure a win for a political party. The fact that both sides do this (it’s also known as redistricting and it’s the practice of redrawing the boundaries so that a district mostly covers Rs or Ds) sort of evens it out, in my book, but I think he’s right that the country’s too polarized and that this is mostly due to political engineering.

“The thing that really fascinates and worries me, is how deeply divided we are,” he said. Last election, only two states flipped. We’ve gotten ourselves into a situation where there are very few states in play or in the middle. The disappearance of the political middle in this country worries me.”

He was really passionate on this point, which was good to see, and better than listening to Katie’s press-release soundbites on every single topic.

Finally, he said that about 122,000 people will probably run for president in 2008 because it’s the most wide-open election since the 1920s. True. Besides Hilary Clinton, name one Democrat that you think has any kind of shot at the nomination next year. And besides John McCain, who doesn’t actually have a shot, name an R. So there you have it.

For all you smut-heads out there who have not the faintest idea what I’m talking about with all this political mumbo jumbo, my apologies. I’ll return to my regular schedule of entertainment babble with my next entry.

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