Thursday, April 12, 2007

One of the Good Apples at CBS

Having vented aggressively over the plagiarism committed by the ghost writer of the "personal reflections" in "Katie Couric's Notebook" (and the CBS management ultimately responsible for such behavior), I feel a somewhat personal obligation to point out that not all of the CBS News apples are bad ones. I just watched the After Words broadcast on Book TV concerning Jeremy Scahill's book about Blackwater. Mr. Scahill was interviewed by David Martin, whose credentials were given as the National Security Correspondent for CBS News. Since one could read Scahill's book as a story about outsourcing, I found it a bit ironic that After Words does not appear to involve anyone from Book TV; none of the interviewers I have seen on this series have any connection with Book TV operations. So this was a "side job" for Mr. Martin; and I would say that he was one of the best interviewers I have seen in the many After Words programs I have watched.

I feel this is important because Mr. Martin had a formidable task. The problem with writing a book about Blackwater is that it covers so much ground illuminated by so many highly vivid examples, that, left to his own devices, Scahill would probably be in great risk of trying to run off madly in all directions. Mr. Martin had obviously but enough effort into both reading the book and internalizing the necessary background that he was able to steer skillfully a one-hour conversation and make sure that all of the most important points were taken into account. For his part Mr. Scahill was as comfortable with oral presentation as he has demonstrated himself to be with his writing; so the "conversation" was actually a matter of Mr. Martin dropping a cue and Mr. Scahill elaborating on it. The good thing about that technique was that Mr. Scahill knew how to bring each elaboration to closure, after which Mr. Martin could provide the next cue.

Yes, this was a one-hour conversation. There is no place for this sort of thing in the CBS Evening News; it is even beyond the scope of 60 Minutes! One advantage that the time provided, though, was that Mr. Martin could provide Mr. Scahill with opportunities to reflect on the contents of his book (particularly in light of events that happened after the book went to press); and Mr. Martin could also prompt Mr. Scahill with reflections of his own experiences in reporting for CBS. It goes without saying that none of this was interrupted by advertising!

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