Do we need a Republican in the Oval Office for journalists to do tough, probing interviews? That would seem to be the implication of Steve Kroft's softball interview on CBS last Sunday with President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf offered a brutal synopsis of the "60 Minutes" interview, demonstrating that Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, when given the chance to interview the world's most powerful man, asked far more insightful and useful questions that pressed Obama much harder than the storied newsmagazine program. In fact, Friedersdorf was probably too charitable about Kroft's star-struck performance.
Recently, we raised serious questions in this space about Clinton's tenure as the nation's top diplomat, pointing out that U.S. relations with much of the world have deteriorated under her watch and that she cannot claim any major accomplishments overseas.
Kroft was obsequiously deferential about her slender record: "[T]here's no big, singular achievement that -- in the first four years -- that you can put your names on. What do you think the biggest success has been, foreign policy success, of the first term?" Kroft then let Obama off the hook with the answer that he was winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars -- an "accomplishment" that his predecessor had planned for roughly the same time frame.
On Syria, where civil war has taken 40,000 lives, Kroft did ask why the administration had not intervened. But Kroft never asked why, after Obama and Clinton sacrificed our standing with Eastern European allies to "reset" relations with Vladimir Putin, ties with the Russians have worsened to the point that we have no standing to persuade them to stop working against us and on behalf of Syria's murderous regime.
He asked only one question about Benghazi and let Clinton get away with an unresponsive answer about what she meant when she claimed, under oath, to be taking "responsibility" for the State Department's failures there.
What "60 Minutes" provided was a chummy, feel-good public relations event that perhaps presages Clinton's 2016 presidential candidacy. Why else would Obama, who will likely never stand for elected office again, ask for a joint interview with his former political rival and exiting secretary of state?
He certainly picked the right journalist for the job. Kroft, recall, is one of the CBS journalists who sat for weeks on unaired interview footage of President Obama going into contortions to avoid calling Benghazi a terrorist attack just before the 2012 election. That footage would have made news when Obama's comments on Benghazi became the subject of controversy in one of his debates with Republican rival Mitt Romney. The interview was instead kept under wraps, then quietly posted online just before the election.
To understand the attitudes behind this puffball interview, take a look at the recent 2,000-word column by CBS's political director, John Dickerson, in which he urged Obama to "pulverize" and "destroy the GOP."
If this is the sort of coverage we can expect from "serious" broadcast journalists over the next four years of Obama, why shouldn't Americans rely on comedians to give them the news?