After the 1995 release of my first trade book, They Don't Get It Do They?, I was interviewed on Good Morning America by Charlie Gibson and Nancy Snyderman. Sitting in the green room I heard Charlie introduce the segment. He said, "I'll bet this is once again a book saying 'they don't get it,' meaning men. I object." His tone was disparaging, his demeanor defensive. I remember thinking interviewing me must have been Nancy's idea.
When I walked out onto the set, Charlie told me he'd really liked the book. He was gracious. But when the interview began, he was back to feeling a bit put upon as a man having to treat gender as the issue it isn't. He was a bit miffed at times during the interview. So it should be interesting to watch him interview Sarah Palin on Thursday and Friday.
Neither gender truly "gets it" about the other without considerable observation. Yet, we've come a long way. It's crystal clear, however, that if Palin were a man standing up for herself, fighting back and telling the media she isn't going to Washington to gain their favor, there wouldn't be so much interest. There's still something slightly amusing in our culture about a woman taking powerful men down a peg or two. It's still interesting to many men so long as she isn't doing it to them and it still stirs in many women a sense of "wish that were me."
But Gibson may want to ask himself: Why this woman? Others have stood their ground in the face of massive media onslaughts? Katie Couric endured exorbitant amounts of criticism when she first anchored CBS News. She learned from it. And she fought back. So where's the hoopla for her? Hillary Clinton was lambasted in the press. The New York Times still can't stop ruminating about whether she is doing too much or too little for Barack Obama's campaign and whether what she does do is in order to be nominated by the Democrats in 2012. Yet she gets up to the podium and delivers great speeches on Barack's behalf. Where's the wow over that?
The reason we have Palin is because Barack didn't pick Hillary and the Rovians were ready for that. It was a deviously masterful move. I'm not crying over spilled milk here. I've always admired Joe Biden. That's on record. But now it's the Republicans who are poised to put a woman almost in the White House after the Democrats allowed sexism to run rampant against a far more qualified woman of their own. The Republican campaign strategists are once again endeavoring to use the opposition's rope to hang themselves -- disparage a woman candidate and we'll use that to win with one of ours.
Once you see the political gamesmanship going on, the whole media circus about Palin becomes what it is -- grocery-store-check-out-salacious-junk-gossip-rag material laced with lies used to run a lowbrow presidential race. We'll see if Charlie Gibson sees it that way. We'll see if he still thinks gender difference stuff is "well- furrowed ground" that we could put behind us if we only tried. Let's see if he does that himself. We'll see, too, if he does journalism a much-needed favor and challenges her with the big bridge lie instead of being cowed by Rush Limbaugh's version of a "babe." Or will Charlie be aglow, bright-eyed and almost giddy with a 44-year-old woman -- beyond cute-and-little by any standard other than the presidency -- running for vice president of the United States?
But a couple of things don't bode well. I can't remember when a television host with Charlie's level of experience had to skip important network meetings to prepare for an interview with someone he'd barely heard of two weeks before? What is that? And why would ABC refer to this as a big interview for him as if he'll be the nervous underdog on the set? Will Palin be Charlie's Alaskan exception to the rule about gender not being an issue that matters anymore when men and women compete for the same jobs? If not, there is no need to treat her with kid gloves.
He should bear in mind, as Barack would be wise to do, that Palin isn't to blame nor does she deserve much credit for what has been happening. She is a creation -- a fanciful fiction -- a product, too, of political serendipity. The timing was right. The handling was impressive. The stage had been set by gender-based attacks on Hillary and her subsequent loss. Palin is a pawn in a vicious, high stakes game. The game is the target.
We won't have a lot of chances to see this woman without a teleprompter and a speech written by the people who kept giving us George and Dick. If this is a big interview for Charlie Gibson, it should be because of that. And because this is his chance to be a real journalist by bringing America closer to the truth before it's too late.