What a bad shock: Charlie Rose, master interviewer, is alleged to be a sexual predator? Given the civilized setting of his civilized conversations with thought leaders from many realms, the expectation that the interviewer himself was civilized was natural. To learn this is not so is, again, a shock.
But what a waste it would be if Rose’s program were tossed along with its namesake.
I am already feeling the loss of the enlightening conversations Rose conducted---with politicians, journalists, private-sector figures, actors and writers, foreign leaders. With politicians, he roamed the partisan spectrum, left and right. Rose had the ability, with an easy-going interview style that was the antithesis of the gotcha style of a Mike Wallace, to elicit the how and why of the political or cultural moment. Rose’s interviews were less a performance and more like insight extracted.
And they were timely. When news was breaking, I’d make it a point to tune in that evening. The Arab Spring, for example: While sadly the Arab Spring has largely collapsed, the sense of History being made in the streets before our eyes---with Rose broadcasting from Cairo---was palpable. And his interviews with foreign leaders compelled: In his interview with Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad, Rose dispensed with the easy-going style and put tough questions to the autocrat.
And how are we going to understand the cyber-world without The New York Times’ David Sanger carefully explaining it to us, or The Washington Post’s David Ignatius explaining the intelligence world, or The New Yorker’s Robin Wright explaining the Middle East? Or The New Yorker’s brilliant Adam Gopnik explaining everything else? Explanation of these wildly confusing times is a vital public service. It was key to Rose’s technique---“Explain it to me, please”---and an intelligent stab was made.
As a writer, I especially enjoyed the interviews with writers, most recently the gem with George Saunders upon his winning the Man Booker Prize for his novel “Lincoln in the Bardo.” Does anybody speak as intelligently about writing in these troubled times as Saunders? And Rose’s forays into the theatre world: He would give us the whole team, inviting to the table the playwright, director, and cast members of plays then playing in New York---“Oslo,” “Hamilton,” “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” Same with films: He’d invite the screenwriter, director, cast members. And I will really-really miss the series “Why Shakespeare?”---in-depth interviews conducted with artists and scholars on Shakespeare’s genius. Of Rose’s surveys of museums, I recall especially the magical hour spent with the head of the Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In a word, it’s not too much to say that Rose brought us Civilization---in the arts, the humanities, politics, science. Which is why the program---as concept---must be continued: With many of the world’s democracies turning illiberal and autocratic, and with America the Exceptional itself stumbling in apparent free-fall---when in short, to quote Shakespeare, “all that is solid melts into air,” or seems to---it is both comforting and instructive to be reminded of the things that endure, despite the apparent contradiction of Rose himself: character, right action, courage, honor, beauty.
There was a major flaw in Rose’s programming, however, which bothered me increasingly over the years: It was the lack of women, both as a talking head on issues or as a guest invited to discuss her latest book, film, project. Especially in a breaking crisis, it seemed the first impulse of Rose and his producers was to consult the men (and usually white men at that), rarely women. In a recent guest spot, former Washington Post writer Sally Quinn, invited to discuss her latest book, was quizzed instead about her late husband, the swashbuckling Post editor Ben Bradlee.
When the sexual harassment scandal broke and the program, night after night, remained resoundingly silent on this hottest of issues, I did wonder: Charlie Rose is usually all over a breaking story, why not this one? Now we know it was because Rose himself was allegedly all over women. When I heard the sorry news, it occurred to me it would be a good topic for his series, “The Brain”: What were you thinking, Charlie Rose? One can only speculate how Rose, secretly a satyr apparently, thought he could keep his high-toned show going without being unmasked.
So, a proposal to PBS: As a dose of Civilization in a badly disjointed world, and thus an important public service, please keep the concept of “The Charlie Rose Show” in place. And to right the gender imbalance: Put a woman in the interviewer’s seat---someone from the ranks of substantive and serious women in the media, and dare I add a mature woman, whose full talents have yet to be showcased. Women like PBS’ own Margaret Warner, or NPR’s Michele Norris, or The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
There’s another reason, an important one, to appoint a woman: the power to shape the culture. Many of the men whose careers have been ruined by this scandal wielded extraordinary sway and power in shaping the culture---in addition to Rose, movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, winner of five Best Picture Oscars; Leon Wieseltier, literary editor for 30 years at The New Republic; Mark Halperin, influential political analyst and best-selling author; Louis C.K., comedian idolized by other comedians; Kevin Spacey (who preyed on men), two-time Best Actor Oscar winner who served as artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre for a decade. Women in general do not wield this kind of power---because they have not been given the authority. High time to bestow the authority. (These men heedlessly abused their power and authority, a point it’s hoped everyone takes note of going forward.)
America is at a moment of reckoning---political, cultural, moral---and we need all our best minds in play, also shaping the culture. Women have too often been held back, on “The Charlie Rose Show” and elsewhere. It would be an act of justice, both poetic and simple, to appoint a woman to take his place.
Carla Seaquist’s latest book is titled “Can America Save Itself from Decline?: Politics, Culture, Morality.” Also a playwright, she published “Two Plays of Life and Death” and is at work on a play titled “Prodigal.”