Monday, December 04, 2006

The Wolf Man Blitzer

I attended a speech by Wolf Blitzer Sunday evening.

A bit strange to watch Blitzer interview John Kerry on CNN's "Late Edition" at midday in Washington and then to see him walk on stage just six or seven hours later at the Wortham Center in Houston.

Is Wolf the only prominent journalist now working in America with a beard? And would CNN let him keep the beard if it were dark and thick? Paula Zahn aside, I'd have to say CNN certainly seems to show off plenty of silver hair. (No wonder CNN's ratings can't compete with other television staples such as "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars.")

Blitzer started working at CNN in 1990, shortly before the Gulf War, and he was soon shipped off to Kuwait, though we have rarely seen him outside "The Situation Room" as of late. He seems to hold down the fort with his silvery deadpan elegance while Anderson Cooper and a stable of international reporters scurry off to farflung hotspots, if not quite the front lines.

Blitzer's talk, under the auspices of the Houston Holocaust Museum, was titled "State of the World." And Blitzer was about as packaged and predictable as he is on CNN.

As we left, I said that I hadn't learned anything, and that was the evening's weakness. But as Mr. Blitzer reminded us, he is an "old-fashioned journalist" who doesn't promote or reveal his own opinions. He acknowledged that he has opinions, but though off camera, he was on stage and never 'off the record.'

But then that is the best thing about Blitzer. He is what we need more of in journalism, especially in what he himself called "the mainstream media." As he said, there is certainly no outlet more mainstream than CNN." Too many so-called "journalists" and talking heads are behaving like news analysts, to put it politely, like pundits to use the current term, and even, a la FOX, like demogogues, bipolar propaganda-mongers. Blitzer ackowledged those but never by name. And so we didn't get anything personal from him, just the broad reminders that it's good we're paying attention (a compliment thrown to those of us in the audience), that multilateral talks and education are the keyes to solving the world's problems, even it's most violent and contentious problems.

And so it seems Mr. Blitzer is, without surprise, the air traffic controller, the person he seems to be on camera, an "old-fashioned journalist" who still has enough panache to let those he interviews (and their larger stories) speak for themselves.


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