The Right Opinion

So God Made a Fawner

Paul Harvey's ad was terrific. Steve Kroft's interview was shameful.

By Peggy Noonan · Feb. 9, 2013

So many people this week mentioned Dodge’s great Super Bowl spot, “So God Made a Farmer,” from a 1978 speech by the late Paul Harvey. Here are some reasons it was great:

• Because it spoke respectfully and even reverently of others. We don’t do that so much anymore. We’re afraid of looking corny or naive, and we fear that to praise one group is to suggest another group is less worthy of admiration. So we keep things bland and nonspecific. Harvey wasn’t afraid to valorize, and his specificity had the effect of reminding us there’s a lot of uncelebrated valor out there. It would be nice to hear someone do “So God Created Firemen,” or “So God Created Doctors,” but I’m not sure our culture has the requisite earnestness and respect. We do irony, sarcasm and spoofs: “So God Created Hedge Fund Managers.” Anyway, it was nice – a real refreshment – to hear the sound of authentic respect.

• Because it spoke un-self-consciously in praise of certain virtues – commitment, compassion, hard work, a sense of local responsibility. The most moving reference, to me, was when Harvey has the farmer get up before dawn, work all day, and “then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” Notice the old word “town,” not “community” – that blight of a word that is used more and more as it means less and less.

• Because it explicitly put God as maker of life and governor of reality, again un-self-consciously, and with a tone that anticipated no pushback. God, you could say anything in Paul Harvey’s day.

• Because it was Paul Harvey, a great broadcaster and a clear, clean writer for the ear, who knew exactly what he was saying and why, and who was confident of the values he asserted. He wasn’t a hidden person, he wasn’t smuggling an agenda, he was conservative and Christian and made these things clear through the virtues and values he praised and the things he criticized. You could like him or not, but you understood that by his lights he was giving it to you straight as he could. He was often criticized as hokey, sentimental and overly dramatic, and sometimes he was. But mostly he was a pro who hit his mark every day, and it says something about his gifts that since he died in 2009, the ABC radio network has appointed a number of successors, but Harvey never really was replaced. Because he was irreplaceable.

* * *

Which gets us to another story involving a media figure and a media institution. I refer to Steve Kroft’s interview, on “60 Minutes,” with Barack Obama and departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That made a big impression too. It didn’t remind us of a style or approach for which we feel nostalgia, but one about which we are feeling increased apprehension, and that is the mainstream media fawn-a-thon toward the current president.

The Kroft interview was a truly scandalous example of the genre. It was so soft, so dazzled, so supportive, so embarrassing. And it was that way from the beginning, when Mr. Kroft breathlessly noted, “The White House granted us 30 minutes.” Granted. Like kings.

What followed was a steady, targeted barrage of softballs. “Why did you want to do this together, a joint interview?” Because, said the president, she’s been one of the best secretaries of state ever, and theirs has been one of the greatest collaborations in history. Also, “I’m gonna miss her.” No reading of the tea leaves here, pressed Mr. Kroft. We don’t have tea here, Hillary laughed.

Throughout the president and the secretary sat closely, shoulder to shoulder, leaning into each other, nodding as the other spoke, praising each other in a way that praised themselves. I don’t blame them for doing propaganda – that’s what White Houses do. But it’s hard not blaming Mr. Kroft and “60 Minutes” for being part of it.

Why did you want her as secretary of state? Mr. Kroft asked. Because she’s so wonderful, the president more or less responded, and not unlike me in the profundity of her seriousness.

Mr. Kroft noted that she had to be talked into taking the job. Mrs. Clinton said yes, she’d exhausted herself selflessly working to elect Mr. Obama in ‘08, she wasn’t sure she wanted to take on a cabinet position. But he’s so persuasive!

The president nodded, smiling. He noted that Mrs. Clinton travelled around the world carrying his forceful yet calibrated message.

“How would you characterize your relationship right now?” asked Mr. Kroft, the intrepid reporter. Hillary answered, “Very warm, close, I think there’s a sense of understanding that doesn’t even take words … a bond.”

Mr. Kroft said he’d “spare you reading what was said” during the heated 2008 Democratic primary battles. And boy, did he spare them.

How did they overcome the tensions and hard words of that battle? “We’re professionals,” said Hillary.

“What do you think the biggest success has been, foreign-policy success, of the first term?”

The president could think of a number of them.

Really, access isn’t worth this. The get isn’t worth it. The entire interview reminded me of an old radio insult: When an interviewer didn’t try to push and probe, didn’t even try to get the story, the resulting interview was called “soft as a sneaker full of puppy excrement.” No, they didn’t say excrement.

* * *

We are living in the age of emergency – the economy, the Mideast, North Korea, Iran. The president has an utter and historic inability to forge a relationship with Congress. Unemployment seems intractable.

And the best Steve Kroft and “60 Minutes” could do was how wonderful are you?

The Obama-Clinton relationship is interesting, but here are some questions about it that might have elicited more than outtakes for a Hillary 2016 commercial:

Mr. President, does your foreign policy really come out of the White House, even out of its political office, and not the State Department? Has the department’s ability to formulate policy and be a player in terms of the development of grand strategy been diminished? Her first year in office Mrs. Clinton looked like someone who’d been put on a plane and told to do interviews on “Good Morning Manila” about how she met Bill. What do you say?

Mrs. Clinton, some think you held your tongue, made the best of a bad situation, worked the areas you could, moved forward on issues of particular concern like women’s rights; that you dummied up on Benghazi, demolished your congressional critics in one masterly day of testimony, and now have been rewarded for your loyalty and discretion with a joint presidential interview that amounts to an anointment for 2016. Can you comment?“

* * *

There is nothing wrong with being a declared liberal or conservative and conducting a sympathetic interview with a political figure who shares your views. Such interviews have their place and can be useful: a nondefensive, nonwary president elaborates on his thoughts, or commits accidental candor.

But Mr. Kroft is a reporter whose job it is to be impartial and nonpartisan, and who works for a towering journalistic institution, "60 Minutes.” People like him are supposed to approach political figures with no fear or favor.

Their job is to grill. What are they afraid of?

9 Comments

Mark in Fullerton said:

I haven't watched "60 Minutes" since Steve Pelley bald-face lied in his report on the American Canal, a hit piece on immigration.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 4:43 AM

Jay in FL said:

It's called the Potemkin Media.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 8:11 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

Paul Harvey was a great man, and a creationist, like me. Jesus Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the wonderful counselor, the Great I AM.How refreshing, when Christians tell the good news, or Gospel.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 10:12 AM

WDP in Boerne, Texas said:

Why is anybody surprised? '60 Minutes' has had a long and friendly relationship with Democratic White Houses. I quit watching back in the early 90's when the late Mike Wallace ran a smear job on Christopher Ruddy's book about the death of Vince Foster at the Clinton White House's request.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Jim in Western NC said:

I used to occasionally watch "60 Minutes" in the '70s when visiting my dad. Since that decade I've watched it twice- the Steve Jobs story and another time, accidentally hitting it on the dial while they were doing a story about some kid who is a chess playing genius from Eastern Europe. Mike Wallace was a professional and love him or hate him, at least he didn't pretend to be unbiased.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 1:37 PM

Cal in SoCall said:

Another great column, Pegs. Right on! Time was Amercan journalists
were good, factural, unbiased, reporters. No more. With the advent of TV,
computers and all the high-tech stuff, they have caved. They have carved out a niche to the Lib Left, and they survive by pandering with the politicians who pander to stay in power. The Paul Harveys are gone and so has our national moral idendity. Pity.

Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Susan in Cincinnati, OH said:

We all know that the loss of an objective press has greatly contributed to the decline of our nation's founding principles. Thank you Peggy for still being on the scene.

Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 6:40 AM

charlie in PA said:

Not bad for a change, Ms Noonan, but what of the Fawnee Politicians?

New times need new words. In the old, old days there was the n-word, now much despised as racist and degrading, originally applied to a class of people who were harmless, oppressed and just trying to get by.

Today there is an equally old, but safe-to-say word that in reality should be more scornful and degrading, applied to a "race" of people who are our oppressors, who do us a lot of harm, and who "get by" splendidly off your tax $. That word is Politician.

A Politician is one who wants the office you hold and will do/say anything to get it, or who holds the office you want and will do/say anything to keep it . He/she will lie about his/her record, lie about your record, trump up dirt on your personal life, buy every vote possible with taxpayer $, lie about what he/she's doing when he/she's doing it and look down his/her nose at you all the while. And when he/she gets the job he/she won't actually do it; they'll just start buying your vote for the next election. The n-guy people trusted to clean their homes; you wouldn't trust a Politician to flush the toilet. .

But saying "politician" just doesn't have the right descriptive vocal "ring". It just doesn't have that guttural sound, like curse words which give satisfaction in venting anger and frustration. So when you think politician, think a P-word---see if you can figure one out.

Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 1:33 PM

RedBaker in Florida said:

The "news media" died in the 2008 election.

Monday, February 11, 2013 at 1:28 PM