Forget the Petraeus affair, cut to pressing issues

Pam Linn

As a member of the media for more than two decades, I rarely complain about news coverage, but so little was said during the election debates, if one can call them that, about the real problems this country faces. 

Now that votes have been cast and counted (even in Florida), I expected more and better coverage of Congress (both lame ducks and freshmen). Oh, we heard a few sound bites about the “fiscal cliff,” but few congressional leaders told how they expect to reach agreement on steps that must be taken within weeks. 

Still, the airwaves are rife with clichés. The next pundit who says Congress can “kick the can down the road” is one whom I will avoid forever. Can’t those guys come up with a phrase less hackneyed? Can you say, laziness? “Move the ball forward” and other sports metaphors also should be jettisoned to meet a briny death. 

So why are we being subjected to hours of airtime devoted to Gen. David Petraeus and his now infamous indiscretion? Flirtatious e-mails? Get real! Since no classified material was compromised, why must we watch that tired clip of a brunette in a pink dress walking down the stairs? Well, because that’s all the TV stations have for visuals, and they’re convinced we’ll switch channels if forced to watch unadorned news from talking heads. The economy may not be as sexy, but it’s looming large. 

This country’s history is littered with unfaithful presidents, who actually were some of the best leaders we ever had. Eisenhower had a long affair during World War II with his driver. Everyone seemed to know but nobody really cared. He was, after all, fighting and winning. We assume Mamie forgave him and the affair ended after he came home from the war. 

FDR died in the arms of his mistress in their Georgia retreat and Eleanor carried on with her philanthropy and no one said a word. JFK got more coverage for his eclectic mix of partners, yet Jackie maintained her proper behavior. No interviews, thank you very much. 

Even Carter revealed he had lusted in his heart, but said he remained faithful in his marriage. 

The second time around seemed to work for Reagan, and Bush the elder kept Barbara close by his side. Then came Clinton and all hell broke loose. Republicans were determined to sink him and he obliged by giving them plenty of dicey material. Hillary stuck by him and subsequently enjoyed two political careers of her own, as U.S. Senator from New York and currently, secretary of state. 

Somewhere along the way, we developed the 24-hour news cycle with cable channels on air nonstop. Quality had to take a second seat to getting the scoop. First, we’ve found, usually isn’t best. And Rupert Murdock is paying the price for trying to make it so. 

CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” where Howard Kurtz takes the media to task every week, showed a great montage of clips on the Petraeus scandal overwhelming a very short word on the economy. Not bad for a 24/7 cable channel. 

Last week, when broadcasters would have liked to take a long weekend, Sunday talk shows had to tape segments ahead or ignore the holiday altogether. Oddly, this benefited CNN’s two hosts, Candy Crowley and Fareed Zakaria. Crowley had convened a panel that included retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, commentator David Brooks, former HP CEO Carly Fiorino and former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. Crowley asked a few questions, but then allowed the dialogue to take its course. Brooks, thoughtful as always, hewed close to the center. Fiorino was wiser than when in campaign mode, Hutchison dominated parts of the discussion in a soft-spoken way and Jackson was calm and cool the few times he spoke. They differed slightly on how to solve the fiscal crisis, but agreed putting off the issue was not a viable strategy. 

Zakaria had taped brilliant interviews early, yet kept the feel of the show’s regular format. First, historians Jon Meacham and Robert Caro offered advice to Obama on presidents’ second terms. Then, Robert Kaplan, author of “The Revenge of Geography,” suggested we should engage Iran more directly (less confrontationally, if I got his drift). 

The overall effect? Thoughtful discourse from some unusual suspects.