I come here not to praise Barack Obama and the remarkable political campaign which made him our nation’s 44th president. Rather, in regard to Tuesday’s DVD release of 60 Minutes Presents Obama: All Access — Barack Obama’s Road to the White House, I come to chide 60 Minutes.
Certainly, the news magazine has earned our respect over the years. But too often on this DVD I’m reminded of another allegedly journalistic broadcast source that’s routinely guilty of making itself the story, and that’s Entertainment Tonight.
Rather than tell us as much important news as possible from the world of show biz, E.T.‘s preening “reporters” angle for as much screen time as they can get, constantly referencing themselves and making them and their show a major part of the story.
Similarly, though certainly less offensively, 60 Minutes offers correspondent Steve Kroft, who followed Obama throughout his presidential campaign. For this DVD he appears on a spiffy 60 Minutes set to force-feed each chapter with needless and often poorly written on-camera intros.
For instance, in introducing a 60 Minutes segment from February 2007, just after Obama announced his campaign, Kroft says when he went to Illinois to do a story back then, “it wasn’t because we thought he was going to be elected the 44th president of the United States. Nobody thought that.”
Nobody? Then why did you do the interview? And by “nobody,” do you mean no one in CBS News, and did you, in fact, assess every staff member’s position on this? And does “nobody” discount Obama and his own staff, who clearly believed he could win, and whose will to win was proven true on Nov. 4, 2008? “Nobody”? A tip: Absolutes aren’t good words to use when you’re a journalist striving for accuracy. Same goes for this disc’s hypey All Access title.
Elsewhere, in introducing previously unused footage, Kroft says this: “But still we were able to use only a fraction of the material we gathered. This DVD gives us a chance to share some of it with you for the first time.”
Now, in this context, by “it” he seems to be referencing the previous sentence, whose subject is the “fraction of the material” CBS was able to use. So, they were able to use a fraction, and now they’re sharing it with us for the first time? That makes no sense. Clearly, we can infer that Kroft meant for “it” to signify the large amount of material CBS hadn’t been able to use yet, but that’s not how he said it. Ask any high school English teacher.
As they yelled in old newspaper newsrooms now going the way of the dinosaurs: Gimme rewrite!
It’s also awkward when Kroft introduces Obama’s big Berlin speech of July of ’08 by saying “He couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic crowd.” That, of course, entices us to see and hear such enthusiasm. But when CBS cuts to the speech, it cuts straight to its first line, with Obama standing at a podium and addressing a then-silent audience. Kroft teases us with the crowd’s incredible enthusiasm, which I well recall as Obama took the stage, but then it’s edited out.
Elsewhere, too, CBS fails to put speeches in their full context via the live audience’s welcome. An exception is the November victory speech in Chicago, which opens with Obama and his family walking onto the thrust stage while the crowd goes wild. Now that’s an enthusiastic audience.
Still, these are quibbles, because much of the content here is superb, from Kroft’s sit-down interviews with Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Obama’s oratorical greatness in speeches which also include his candidacy announcement, his Philadelphia speech on race, his nomination acceptance in Denver and his inaugural address. The only pivotal speech missing is Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which truly set the table for him to pursue a presidential candidacy, but you can’t have everything.
So thanks, 60 Minutes. You’ve done a nice job of presenting many meaningful moments from what you call “one of the most improbable political campaigns in American history.” But as Ronald Reagan chided Jimmy Carter in their debates, there you go again.
Yes, I must challenge that statement too. Clearly it should be qualified by calling Obama’s road to the White House “one of the most improbable successful political campaigns in American history.”
I mean, really, we’ve had scads of improbable campaigns, from Pat Paulsen’s in ’68 to Ralph Nader’s in any year. No, the distinction here wasn’t that Obama’s campaign was one of the most improbable, but that it was unprecedented — with a young African-American senator — yet also successful. In fact, forget “one of the most,” too, and let’s call this what it was: “The most improbable successful political campaign in American history.” Now that’s a striking statement — and a far more accurate one.
In short, there’s a lesson here. The eloquent guy is named Barack Obama, so let him have the stage. All this history and greatness isn’t about CBS News or 60 Minutes or Steve Kroft or fancy sets and logos and intros — its about Barack Obama.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike many people, I’m not down on the news media, which I served as a print journalist for many years. And I don’t want to shoot the messenger. In this case, I just wish the messenger had gotten out of the way.