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Ed Driscoll

Stupid Interviewer Tricks

April 4th, 2014 - 2:42 pm

David Letterman, 67, announced on Thursday that he’ll be retiring sometime next year. But it’s been an interesting, if raw and painful decade for the chat show host leading up to his decision, particularly after he did something that Johnny Carson never did on air: he dropped the mask and revealed his misanthropic inner self to the world.

We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, some background. As Rob Long writes in his review of Henry Bushkin’s biography of Carson in the new issue of Commentary, a nightly talk show host with a lengthy career has a particularly challenging assignment maintaining his on-air facade:

We’re all primed to hear stories of movie stars and celebrities and their creepy emotional problems. But for actors—who, after all, appear only on screen, in character, or in a few carefully stage-managed publicity appearances—it’s easy to cover up the seams of a psychotic or broken-down personality.

But Johnny appeared on television every weeknight. He was playing himself—or, rather, an idealized version of himself: jovial, chummy, witty, warm. The strain of that kind of acting must have been monumental. It’s no wonder that real movie stars—Jimmy Stewart, Michael Caine, a whole bushel of A-listers—respected him so much. In one of the best stories in a book filled with great stories, when Johnny arrives late to a very exclusive industry event filled with movie stars, he lights up the room. He wasn’t just the king of late night television. He was the king of managing not to appear like the rat bastard he clearly was.

Presumably, a man who has made his living for a quarter century interviewing famous people in front of millions should have banked plenty of methods along the way to artfully duck a question. The smartest politicians and celebrities share the ability to say nothing while saying it beautifully. So it’s ironic — particularly given that irony was how he built his career — that David Letterman’s luster was permanently scraped away on October 27th 2006, with just one question from a very different television interviewer who happened to be on his show, Bill O’Reilly:

In now a famous “You Tube” moment, Bill O’Reilly of the Fox News Channel, went on Letterman to be the recipient of the host’s rude and sophomoric antics. As the segment shifted into high gear, O’Reilly asked Letterman a pointed and direct question: “Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?”

To the surprise of no one but his sycophants, Letterman could not or would not answer the question. When pressed by O’Reilly to answer, the best he could do was to play to his mostly left-leaning audience for cheap debating points and say, “It’s not easy for me because I’m thoughtful.”

Ironically, in February 2006, just three and a half years prior, Letterman shared this exchange with another famous newsman, Tom Brokaw:

On Thursday’s Late Show on CBS, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw told David Letterman how people in Iraq “are afraid to say anything because the wrong thing gets them not only in trouble, but probably executed.” Brokaw related how when he was in Baghdad in December, a man approached him and in a loud voice praised Saddam Hussein and promised to fight American invaders, but in a quiet voice he expressed hope that the Americans would arrive before Christmas since “we’ll be very happy to have them come here as quickly as possible.”

That arc, and that length of time, from believing, at least on some level, in the liberation of Iraq from Saddam Hussein to diminishing the American war effort, follows the timeline of another CBS legend, Walter Cronkite, who during the course of the mid-1960s, went from a true believer in the policies of JFK and LBJ to declaring the Vietnam a failure. But while Cronkite in 1968 declared Vietnam “a stalemate,” to the best of my knowledge, he never actively wished for America to lose.

And that’s where Dave miscalculated. It’s one thing to question a war — Americans question political and foreign policy goals all the time — but openly wishing on the air for American failure at war is inexcusable, even from a dedicated postmodernist like Letterman. In the mid-’80s, Letterman’s misanthropy defined itself in mocking the titanic egos of his fellow stars. Twenty years later, those same misanthropic impulses were causing Letterman to wish for American defeat, and tacitly, along with it, even more American and Iraqi bloodshed.

After O’Reilly’s question exposed him, Letterman seemed to be an increasingly cranky and bitter man; the nadir was attacking Sarah Palin’s 14-year old daughter in 2009.

Last night, Palin got a modicum of revenge, during a segment with Sean Hannity. Tony Lee writes at Big Hollywood that when told of Letterman’s upcoming retirement, “‘It’s cool,’ Palin said tersely. ‘Out with the old, in with the new,’” a particularly delicious retort to a man who works in an industry obsessed with maintaining a youthful façade.

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Top Rated Comments   
Let's remember Letterman as the same as Clinton - a sexual bully and maybe predator. Both used their positions at one time or another to strong-arm sex from a subordinate. There is Letterman's true character when he attacked Palin's daughter - that of possible pederast.

This is the core of the New Left - sexual perversion and license.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Letterman was snarky and his "humor" bent toward the cruel side. He's always seemed disinterested and arrogant. Good riddance.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Letterman's descent into knee-jerk angry liberalism almost seemed as if he had a desire to maintain his 'hipness' with the bi-coastal elites, by robotically spouting the conventional wisdom of the past decade -- i.e. I remember a "Late Night" episode from 1999, post-Lewinsky and post-impeachment, where Dave had James Carville on as a guest and proceeded to rip him a new one when he tried to throw out the White House spin that the scandal was all the Republicans' fault, all about sex and had nothing to do with Bill lying in office.

That Letterman was political and a cynic, but a cynic about all sides. The Letterman of the middle part of the ensuing decade would not just lambast O'Reilly, but would spout far left talking points without a hint of skepticism and treat Keith Olbermann as a fountain of political wisdom when he had him on the show. Fine for the bubble Dave was in shuffling between Manhattan and the liberal enclaves of southwestern Connecticut -- and many aging liberals continued to act as if being part of Team Dave made them as trendy as if it were February 1982 all over again. But it cemented him into permanent also-ran status because he could never get enough viewers to catch Leno by alienating half his potential viewing audience.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
When Leno left, just like Carson, he was still at the top of his game, and everybody missed him. When Leterman leaves it will be good riddance to bad rubbish.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, except in Letterman's case, he's always been bad rubbish.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember Letterman when he was on daytime TV and always tried to catch his show. He did stuff that was genuinely funny, fresh and irreverant. Remember his bits like the "Suit of Chips and Vat of Dip?" His schtick was to almost say to the audience, "This stuff is just too easy - Can you believe I'm getting paid for this?" He was ironic in an era when irony could still be light-hearted unstead of the leaden convention it has become. Yet almost as soon as he got the late-night gig he began to change into the kind of entertainment figure he had always gently mocked - The establishment blowhard who takes himself way too seriously. Over the last ten years the mask has chipped away and he has been exposed a bitter, self-righteous egomaniac. No tears will be shed with Letterman retires. He's already well past his sell-by date.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I personally gave up on Letterman after the Palin daughter remark. If someone had said something like that about his son, he would have gone ballistic, and rightfully so. And then his excuse was he thought it was the 16 year old with Palin, not the 14 year old, that he suggested a ballplayer rape?

But I note that Driscoll calls Carson a "rat bastard" not once, but twice, with no justification. What, Johnny wouldn't take your phone call? If you have something to say, SAY IT, dropping ad hominems for their own sake is dilatory at best.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
David Letterman is retiring after finally achieving his goal: outlasting Jay Leno.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
For me Letterman's true face was revealed by a series of events in 2000. First off Letterman had been having Al Gore on for several years to talk about his "re-inventing government" (how did that work out) under Clinton. So he got used to just sitting there with the vice-president and yucking it up. But then after Gore's campaign started it was exactly the same thing. Softball questions, yucking it up letting Gore do the Top Ten List. Then later he had Hillary on during her run for the NY Senate. Same thing yucking it up, Top Ten List, softballs and it was revealed later that his writers had written Hillary's appearance to create the illusion that she actually has a personality.
Then he had GW Bush on, and turned into Mike Wallace it was hardball questions, haranguing. And then he used clips from the interview in discussions with other news media and political figures to run down GW Bush. Taking things out of context and acting like it was all some big joke. I turned off his show after that, and haven't turned it on since. I also boycotted CBS for the next eight years. Back in the 80's when Letterman was the host of Late Night, I was one of his biggest fans.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Brokaw and Cronkite are also mentioned in this article. I have the same amount of respect for them as I have for Letterman (in other words, none).
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
In the end, Letterman became that which he despised - Joe Franklin. Cue an endless parade of the same pre-interviewed slebs plugging the latest remake from a Hollywood bereft of ideas. From REM on NBC to Katy Perry on CBS. From Larry 'Bud' Melman as improbable comedic cult figure to the pro forma booking of the latest sports champion reciting an unfunny, halting Top 10 list.

If Carson and the shallow Tinseltown crowd became an incestuous circle, Letterman's decades spent in NYC, the Hamptons and Connecticut demonstrated he was not immune to the absorption of po-faced Northeastern liberal nonsense until he was indistinguishable in thought and word from the smug lefty newsreaders he interviewed.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
In retrospect, it's a shame Letterman didn't retire when NBC betrayed him. His show was never the same after, never as good, his place in late night history becoming a little more tarnished with each passing year. The only highlight I can think of on CBS was his first monologue after 9/11. That's about it.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have never seen the Letterman show! Always had to go to bed at a reasonable hour to get the kids ready for school the next day or to go to work. Late night TV just never became part of our daily life. Am I the only one who is indifferent to Letterman & Leno & whoever the heck is on TV these days?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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