Agassi, Wallace, And Williams

by The New Republic Staff | September 3, 2006

The difference between a veteran tennis player in a major tournament and a veteran journalist on serious assignment appears to be that the tennis player has to perform at least adequately or he'll be ridiculed off the court. I'm thinking of course of the recent performances of Andre Agassi and contrasting them with 1) Mike Wallace's recent interview with President Ahmadineijad of Iran and 2) Brian Williams' end of August interview with President Bush. Wallace's stumbling, falsely jocular, ill-informed, and even rude interrogation was in stark contrast to what was for me the totally unexpected knowlegeability, courtesy, intelligence, and even charm of the Iranian president. I had thought of the ill- shaven man as a sort of nationalist thug, bellicose, inflammatory, a loose cannon unmoored by good sense, decent international manners or general decency. But he dealt with the ancient, hollow journalist with a skill and charm that made me realize that this well-educated (PhD in civil engineering) man had not risen to his position by accident or by being someone's puppet. It's clear that he should be treated very seriously and talked to by serious diplomats. To a degree then, Wallace's ignorance, vulgarity and, yes, stupidity accomplished more than a good interviewer would have. As for Brian Williams' patronizing interrogation of George Bush's now celebrated summer reading, it would have helped if Williams had picked up Camus' Stranger and recognized that it was not a work of philosophy but a novel. He could even have asked the president a question or two about the book, but, no, it was clear to any watcher that Williams knew next to nothing about it and was afraid of leaving the safe, tedious waters out of which his other questions were drawn. --Richard Stern

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