MEDIA DISSENT: Talking Heads (Part II)
The Worst Talking Heads on Television
Philip Nobile is the editor of Judgment at the Smithsonian, which
printed the banned Smithsonian script on the 50th anniversary
of the Bombs of August in 1995.
My list of worst talking heads is based on a para-scientific formula applied to over 7,300 hours of programming, divided by the number of times David Gergen says, "At the end of the day," in his appearances. Once again, to guarantee fairness and balance, I have controlled for hair and political bias. Next week: The Most Over-Rated.
Robert Novak, a curmudgeon's curmudgeon, is a useful idiot for exposing traditional uncompassionate conservatism. Intellectually lazy, mean and charmless, Novak's longterm TV success is as mysterious as his coiffure. His dark soul was laid bare on "Crossfire" last July 31 when he mugged Bush advisor Ralph Reed regarding the GOP convention's sudden romance with minority faces:
Novak: You know, Mr. Reed, I used to think that one of the values of the Republican Party is they were color-blind while the Democrats had a quota system. I was looking at the schedule for tonight's proceedings.
Novak: ... We have tonight four African-Americans, two Jews, five Hispanics, and an Asian. Boy, I thought I was in San Francisco with the Democrats, what Jeane Kirkpatrick used to call the San Francisco Democrats. Have you -- have you abandoned the idea of we're color-blind and you're having this kind of quota system?
Reed: ... I think what we're trying to do is we're trying to have a convention that reflects diversity as a strength.
Novak: What about white people? Not too many.
Novak's racist slant was so naked that he needed to apologize or explain pretty damn quick. When he and co-host Bill Press made their closing comments, Novak leaped to elaborate on his unseemly remarks, but only dug a deeper hole:
Novak: Bill, I was acting as the devil's advocate on the right, a role I enjoy, by the way [laughter] in asking those questions of Ralph Reed. But in fact they're doing the right thing with this platform, with this nicey-nicey convention. And what they can do is bring in all these minority groups and everything, and then once they get into office they can eviscerate the Department of Education. ... Can I tell you something that the -- the politicians won't tell you, and that is that we still in this country have a country where the minority groups by themselves cannot win an election.
Devil's advocate, my clavicle!
Susan Estrich, Fox News contributor and former Dukakis campaign manager, expresses far, far too much gusto on camera. Factor in ... a voice made for the Trappists, a laugh that cracks plexiglass, a floridity reminiscent of Tammy Fay, and you have must-turn-off TV. Slotted as a liberal, Estrich plays her role slavishly. Even when she is right, and she is one smart cookie, her flaming presentation kills her point. Most annoying habit: repetitive use of "I gotta tell ya." Needs perkiness management lesson from Margaret Carlson ("Capitol Hill Gang").
Paul Begala, former Clinton aide and co-host with Ollie North of MSNBC's "Equal Time," is more conflicted than Jonathan Pollard. As one of those political crossovers who crowd professional journalists out of talk shows, owing to the genre's craving for celebrity, Begala maintains dual loyalties. Though paid by MSNBC, he renders as well to Clinton-Gore-Hillary. He set up Gore's videotaped roast of Imus last fall and later arranged for a VP guestshot on Imus's show. Currently, he is prepping Gore for his first Bush debate. With a record like that, what are the chances of getting any unspun opinion? Performance tips: cool the perpetual grin, the fake laugh, and homophobic usage like "butt boy."
Ollie North is so crudely partisan that he cancels out Begala's smoother style on their show. North's unbearable m.o. popped out boldly on "Larry King Live!" last week when he faced off with Steve May, the gay Arizona legislator whom the Army is trying to discharge from the reserves under "don't ask, don't tell." May's case is complicated by the fact that he outed himself while he was a civilian and was subsequently recalled to Army service. Herewith North's revealing homophobic rant against May:
North: I want to go back to the laws of biology. The reality of it is the reason we give separate bunk spaces to women on Navy ships, the reason we have separate and segregated showers and heads, is so that temptation, the laws of biology, does not become overwhelming and we create even bigger problems than we already have today, given that this administration wants to use the military like a bunch of lab rats in a radical social experiment.
May: Sir, are you saying that if you and I shared a bedroom in the barracks that you would succumb to some strange laws of biology?
North: No, I would strangle you, Steve, before you could get away with it.
Rough trade, that Ollie!
John Fund, the grinning inquisitor from the Wall Street Journal and once Rush Limbaugh's ghost, is more smarmy than the Grand Pontificator Bill Bennett, who is saved from this list by his pure entertainment value, that is, Bennett is so bad he's fun to watch -- like a sweaty Nixon press conference of old.
David Gergen, former Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton advisor (did I miss any chief executive in the last thirty years?) and currently editor-at-large at U.S. News and World Report, has never made a memorable remark on camera. Yet "get me Gergen" is a constant refrain in producers' meetings. Hair tip: lose Novak's stylist.
Laura Ingraham, Barbara Olson, and Anne Coulter, have more than good Aryan looks and ice-people politics in common. What links these three women is viper personality syndrome, that is, a compulsive desire to say venomous things about one's political enemies in public. Ingraham, for example, ridiculed Senator Barbara Milkulski's lack of glamour at the Democratic Convention, smirking on "Imus in the Morning" that Mikulski was "scary" to men. Having failed at two separate MSNBC hosting jobs and authored a critically despised anti-Hillary book The Hillary Trap, Ingraham has nothing left to lose. Olson is another one-note Democrat and Hillary-hater with her own scream book, Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) Coulter may display the most prominent poitrine on the circuit, but her incessant, wise-gal aggression suggests that she was raised by wolves.
Roger Rosenblatt thankfully restricts himself to essays on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" where he opines on everything with a pompadour pomposity matching that of his PBS mate, Louis Rukeyser of "Wall Street Week." Great pipes, but an awful bore. Worst moment: an homage to his miniature dog, a canine that Ollie North would surely strangle if found in an Army barrack.
Published: Sep 27 2000