ABC News anchor Charles Gibson flummoxes Sarah Palin in their first interview

Media criticism.
Sept. 11 2008 9:44 PM

Palin vs. Gibson, Round 1

The ABC News anchor flummoxes the GOP amateur.

Read John Dickerson, Fred Kaplan, and Timothy Noah for more of Slate's take on Sarah Palin's interview with Charles Gibson.

Sarah Palin and Charles Gibson. Click image to expand.
Sarah Palin and Charles Gibson

Without being smarmy about it or unfurling gotcha questions, ABC News anchor Charles Gibson demonstrated that he knows volumes more about national security and foreign policy than does Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

In an on-location-in-Alaska interview that consumed 11 or 12 minutes (video) of the Thursday edition of World News Tonight and continues later tonight on Nightline and again tomorrow on World News Tonight and 20/20, Palin recited her answers as if reading from a Teleprompter inside her head. The extensive coaching she has received could not save her from embarrassment in this exchange.

Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson (refusing to give her a hint): What do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His worldview?

Gibson: No, the Bush Doctrine, enunciated in September 2002, before the Iraq War.

Palin attempts to fake it for 25 seconds with a swirl of generalities before Gibson, showing all the gentleness of a remedial social studies teacher, interjects.

Gibson: The Bush Doctrine as I understand it is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense. That we have the right of a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

Of course Palin agrees with the Bush Doctrine, but she can't come out and say so, having just admitted that she doesn't know it by name. At every point in the Q&A, Gibson had the right follow-up questions to elicit more from Palin, including after he asked the Bush Doctrine cringe-maker. He asks her to give thumbs up or down to the U.S. military's recent forays into Pakistan from Afghanistan. He asks her several ways. But she can't answer the question, and she won't dismiss it. Instead she slows the interview to a crawl again, dribbling and dribbling the ball but refusing to take the shot.

"I get lost in a blizzard of words there," Gibson says, his glasses riding the end of his nose, asking for a "yes" or a "no" again. Palin finally expresses her view that the United States "has to exercise all options" to stop terrorists, making her reluctance to endorse a li'l cross-border thrust into Pakistan made by the commander-in-chief difficult to understand.

In asking about 30 questions, including follow-ups, he gets Palin to call for the inclusion of Georgia in NATO and commits the United States to waging war with Russia if Russia reinvades a NATOed Georgia. (I'm guessing Gibson's hypothetical assumed an invasion into parts of Georgia that Russia doesn't already occupy.)

Palin can't blame her muddled responses on Gibson, who treats her fairly and conducts himself professionally. Never mind about her not being ready to be president. She wasn't even ready for this interview.

******

I'll return later to assess the other Palin-Gibson interview segments. Taunt me with trick questions via e-mail: slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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