I know Barbara West. Barbara West is a friend of mine. It used to be standard practice in journalism to state any potential conflict of interest up front. That was the ethical standard, which like other ethics in a troubled profession, seems more and more ambiguous as the days go by.
But I state it up front. Call me “old school,” but I still value how I was taught, regardless of how others act. I’ve known Barbara West from WFTV in Orlando for many years. We worked for the same company and, indeed, spent many days covering stories together, most notably the Impeachment of President Clinton in 1998. Barbara was and still is an anchor/reporter for WFTV, the ABC affiliate owned by Cox Broadcasting. I was the Washington, DC, correspondent for all Cox TV stations.
Barbara is a tough but fair journalist, who plays no favorites. Which brings us to her much-talked-about interview with Joe Biden. She grilled him well. She asked him about ACORN, the controversial voter-registration-drive group. And she asked him about Barack Obama’s pledge to “spread the wealth” and whether that teetered on socialism - both good, tough questions, which I would have asked about, too.
Barbara did preface one question in regard to the Obama-Biden platform by quoting Karl Marx, which I thought was a bit “over the top.” I just wouldn’t have framed the question in that way. That question aside, I think this was a good, solid and fair interview.
That Joe Biden took such offense is his prerogative, but politicians of his stature should be used to tough questions by now. After all, we are not electing the president of the high school boosters club; we are electing the President of the United States. Biden shouldn’t be so thin skinned after 36 years in the Senate. As Chris Matthews always says, politics is a “hardball” endeavor.
The next day, Barbara interviewed John McCain in a similar format. She asked him some pretty tough questions, too, about dissention between the McCain and Palin camps and about the overall disorganization of the McCain campaign when compared to the well-oiled Obama machine - hardly softball questions at this critical juncture of the campaign.
Still, the liberal left came out swinging, noting that West’s husband Wade (whom I also know) worked for Republican candidates in Florida during the 1990s, though he no longer does. Some suggested he wrote her questions, which is a sexist slap. In the interview, Joe Biden actually said, “I don’t know who’s writing your questions,” which is about as sexist as it gets, given Barbara’s long and impressive credentials in TV, including a stint working for the legendary Peter Jennings. Had I asked the same questions, would someone have asked me who wrote my questions? No.
The most laughable part of this is that some now accuse WFTV of being a right-wing TV station. The ABC affiliate is owned by the Cox family of Atlanta, Georgia. If the name Cox rings a bell, it’s because company founder, James Cox, was the Democratic nominee for President in 1920. The three-term Ohio Governor lost to Warren Harding, but Cox went on to build a multibillion-dollar media empire. Today his heirs remain active in the Democratic Party and would hardly allow their TV station to be used as a Republican tool. (Truth be told, they stay out of newsroom editorial decisions, which is commendable).
I gave a lecture to a journalism class at San Jose State University the other day; and the students, their professor and I discussed the West interview after viewing it. While I said that I might word some questions differently, I gave West high praise for at least asking tough questions, instead of the “softballs” that are being lobbed by most in the media these days. Reporters are afraid to ask tough questions anymore because management is concerned that offended viewers will grab the remote control and change channels in an ever-shrinking audience and revenue stream.
Whether one likes her treatment of Joe Biden and John McCain, or not, at least Barbara West has the guts and intelligence to ask some tough, hard, pertinent questions of those who might lead this country. I support her 100 percent and wish the majority of our profession wasn’t so weak-kneed!
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