Charlie Rose is a shill for the powers that be. Too judgemental? Unfair?
November 27, 2013 12:03 PM   Subscribe

Before I get into any more arguments about it, I'd like to know if my negative impression of Charlie Rose is unfair -if anyone remembers any shining moment where he actually contradicted someone who was spouting "the conventional wisdom".

My opinion: -during the run up to, and early days of the Iraq war, Rose ran softball interviews, never having proper followup questions to counter the Bush II admin talking points. He only lent a weird sort of legitimacy to these characters (and their arguments) by showcasing them on a respectable, serious program like his. Like most corporate news journalists, he was too afraid of losing access to his high profile guests to risk making them uncomfortable.

*I'm not saying it was his duty to stop the war or anything, it's just that I wasn't a super regular viewer of the show and want to know if my impression is skewed by only having watched him during the early 2000s. I'm kind of amazed that he still seems to be held in such universally high regard.
posted by bonobothegreat to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, it's unfair. His show is an "interview" style show. If he regularly challenged his guests with pointed/challenging questions, he wouldn't have access to the guests he wants. Interview style shows are more of a dance around those kind of topics, the listener/viewer is expected to be paying attention to how they answer questions, not just what they say. He's not trying to be Hardball. Terry Gross is another interviewer in this camp and she does sometimes ask particularly pointed questions, but it is done in the most gentle, kind way. People in the news always have people that disagree and are challenging them - the point interview style shows is more about seeing the human side of the person, rather than to debate through policy details.
posted by Brent Parker at 12:24 PM on November 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've never had this impression of him, specifically, over and above other mainstream media figures.

He was hardly the only journalist/interviewer/TV talking head type person behaving that way at the time.

I'd put it this way. Do you shun the New York Times for the same reason? If so, continue to hate Charlie Rose if you want, I guess. If you rely on the NYT as a respected news source, it is a bit hypocritical to focus that much ire on Charlie Rose a decade later.
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm kind of amazed that he still seems to be held in such universally high regard

With a few exceptions, no guest deliberately seeks out bad publicity, and smaller audiences are interested in lower profile guests. Rose is held in high regard by his guests, because he doesn't challenge his guests in any way. This allows him to get higher profile guests, which puts him in a higher regard with the audience. Promotion is an engine that can only operate in a virtuous cycle.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:34 PM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think your impression is basically correct. For example, here's a long and fawning profile of him ("Why Business Loves Charlie Rose") by a Fortune Magazine journalist, which focuses on his friendships with various billionaires. Note also that his show's funding comes from private underwriters (Coca-Cola, News Corp, individual rich guys), not from PBS or CPB.

I don't think Rose is particularly worse than any other high-profile interviewer. If they get a reputation for making their guests look foolish, they stop getting guests.
posted by theodolite at 12:36 PM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have to say, I run hot-and-cold with Rose, too, for this same reason. He definitely plays soft-and-cozy with the investor/banker/Wall Street/global capitalism crowd.

Part of his style, also, which I find irritating at times, is his tendency to talk over his guests, especially if he's presenting a counterpoint. You can generally tell who he agrees with by how much/little he interrupts or speaks over. Some interviews seem to be Rose talking to Rose.

But, then, he has these lengthy, fantastic interviews with artists, writers, scientists, etc. So, like I said, hot-and-cold.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:46 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

He interviewed Edward Said, which can't be said for many MSM people.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:51 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

If he regularly challenged his guests with pointed/challenging questions, he wouldn't have access to the guests he wants.
The idea that the options are "warm and fuzzy" or "no access" is demonstrably false. To accept that is to settle for mediocrity. Aggressive (and at times disrespectful) questioning on serious, non-partisan current affairs tv/radio is, for better or worse, something that happens a lot more in other countries.
posted by caek at 12:52 PM on November 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you are judging him too harshly.

early days of the Iraq war, Rose ran softball interviews
Virtually the entire American media did this, not just Charlie Rose. The Democratic Party in Congress did it too. To hold that up as the test, is to condemn pretty much all American media and virtually all major American politicians.

Granted, Charlie Rose is not the hardest hitting interview - but to say he never challenges or questions is totally unfair. One instances that I can remember is Rick Santorum getting pretty annoyed with Charlie Rose over the whole thing about women's contraception being an aspirin between their knees. A close associate of Santorum said that, and Rose and Santorum argued it out.

I am sure there are other examples besides this single one that comes to my mind.
posted by Flood at 1:02 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

As caek said, "access requires softball" is not a universal axiom, but it does seem to be the norm in the US. Hilarious consequences ensued when GWB's handlers forgot that the rest of the world doesn't play by those rules, and accidentally allowed Carole Coleman to savage him on Irish television. Apparently the suggested questions supplied by Bush's staff were on topics such as what outfit the prime minister had worn at G8. What he got was more along these lines:
Unfortunately, the majority of our public do not welcome your visit because they're angry over Iraq, they're angry over Abu Ghraib. Are you bothered by what Irish people think?
On this side of the Atlantic, that's more or less what you expect in a political interview, but I gather that the White House saw it as incredibly unsportsmanlike behaviour, and the interview was not aired in the US.
posted by pont at 1:23 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rose is a softballing sycophant to power, yes. Don't know where you got the impression that high regard for him was universal, but it most assuredly isn't. See for instance this piece and its links:
One thing that makes Rose as a columnist troubling is his reputation as a softball interviewer, someone who values chummy, civil discussion over challenging debate. He even crops up in You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery by Richard Stengel, who notes the semantics of Rose's insistence that what he does isn't interviewing people, but rather hosting conversations with them: "An interview is between people of different status; a conversation is between people of the same status. Interviews are déclassé."

A New York magazine profile of Rose by Jeanie Kasindorf from 1992 unfavorably portrayed Rose as a name-dropper and social climber: "Rose runs the show much as a turn-of-the-century society hostess might run a salon. Within one hour, he can seem to be the best friend of such disparate guests as Jann Wenner, Oliver North, and Susan Faludi. At times he can be silly, giggling with his guests. At times he can be fawning ('a provocative piece,' he intoned to Henry Grunwald about his essay in Time; he called Abe Rosenthal 'a paragon in the world of newspapers')."

There are also ethical questions [...] Rose is so helpful to corporate leaders, he reportedly brokers deals for them, even off air [...]

Inside Softball
posted by RogerB at 2:08 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Charlie Rose is a member, friend and defender of the 1%. He's also erudite, has great taste and access to big thinkers. It's a trade-off. I only watch when the guest compels.
posted by thinkpiece at 3:00 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

He isn't always easy on interviewees. He had quite pointed questions for people on the side of the Occupy movement, something I'd never witnessed on his show before.
posted by one_bean at 5:03 PM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. His affiliation to PBS, high profile guests and his cultured manner have led people I know to view him as a very serious and respectable TV journalist.

I know he wasn't behaving any worse than the bulk of the media figures of the time but it bothered me that a PBS show was giving important policy makers such a soft cushy platform to discuss the impending war, not their memoirs. I admit that he could ask the occasional awkward question but like most the of the other media at the time, he never challenged the talking points that were trotted out in response.

I just wanted to be sure that I hadn't missed some important moment with an establishment figure where he had held their feet to the fire.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:13 PM on November 27, 2013

He's not a journalist. He had some training and work in journalism but for decades (even before he had his own show) he's been a celebrity interviewer. You're holding him to too high a standard.
posted by Miko at 7:33 PM on November 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't know, "journalist" or not, I think it's pretty reasonable for people to consider Rose responsible for what happened on his air, even just for providing an outlet for something like Thomas Friedman's "suck on this" moment. But anyhow, while I was looking around for more discussion of Rose's role specifically in the cheerleading for the Iraq war, I found an interesting Glenn Greenwald piece from a while back that, while not holding him blameless, does find some significant things to praise about his role in the discussion:
It should be noted that, in terms of presenting a complete view of the Iraq debate to the American public, Charlie Rose is actually much better than the standard establishment media outlet. To his credit, prior to the invasion, he actually interviewed genuine war opponents (and did so respectfully, not in order to deride them as objects of freakish wonderment). He conducted meaningful interviews with people like Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky — figures whom the establishment media (which gives endless airtime to the likes of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Kristol) would never get anywhere near [...] Even more to Rose’s credit, on the same five-year anniversary show [...] Rose also interviewed two Iraqis now living in the U.S., Ali Fadhil and Sinan Antoon.
posted by RogerB at 8:04 PM on November 27, 2013

Charlie Rose is a shill for Charlie Rose and Charlie Rose's world. If you can bear that, you can hear some interesting people talking with him, and sometimes about interesting stuff. I cant really bear him anymore, though. I admit I used to have the odd Rupert Pupkin moment when thinking about his show (What are you doing now, FromBklyn? Oh, I'm buying full fat milk, Charlie, because, you know, if you get the full fat, something about when you warm it up just makes the whole coffee experience that much richer...) But over the years his somewhat bland, patrician and often patronizing demeanor has worn me down. He'll let the dissenting voice sit at his table, but next day that table will still be there: I mean, no Jon Stewart on 'Crossfire' will ever likely happen to him. Dude is nimble.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:00 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I - and others - really value about Charlie Rose is that it's creates something that is very rare these days: The ability to listen to someone fully articulate their opinion and point of view, without constantly having to throw out defensive response after defensive response to questions that, frankly, tell me more about the interviewer's opinion than the interviewees.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:46 AM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

He had quite pointed questions for people on the side of the Occupy movement, something I'd never witnessed on his show before.

Which would tend to reinforce his defender-of-the-1% cred.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:41 AM on December 1, 2013

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