The Battleship Yamato and Lesley Stahl were born on the same day in December of 1941. The Yamato was obsolete at the moment of its commission thanks to the rise of naval airpower.
The Yamato sunk in 1945. Stahl, however, is still in commission. The specific moment of her obsolescence is not entirely clear, but at 78 years young, I would place it at no less than a decade ago.
Stahl was 19 when John F. Kennedy was elected, 21 when he died, 25 when Goldwater lost to Lyndon Johnson, 29 when Nixon was elected, 33 when Nixon was reelected in a landslide, and 35 when Nixon was forced to resign.
Joining CBS News in 1971, Stahl, in her autobiography Reporting Live, wrote “I was born on my 30th birthday.” She nailed that exactly. Her political understanding of the world is defined by Vietnam and Watergate.
As I have written before, America has a gerontocracy problem. The idea that Lesley Stahl could be an appropriate choice to interview President Trump is as short-sighted as was the massive capital investment the Japanese made in the Yamato, a conservative blunder of the most expensive proportions.
The Yamato—a symbol of the backwards militarism of Japan—contributed nothing to Japan’s war effort. Sending Stahl—a symbol of conventional media’s backward obsession with Watergate—to interview the president, contributed absolutely nothing to the public’s understanding of the serious political choices before them.
Perhaps Stahl has too much accumulated experience and too little ability to form new opinions to grasp what is happening now. For Stahl, and for all correspondents of her cohort who feel intense nostalgia over All The President’s Men, every Republican is a Nixon problem. How do you get the cancer—an elected Republican—out of the White House?
Trump had Stahl’s number when he asked her, “Where are we?” She answered, with some prodding, “The White House?” “That’s right,” he answered, punctuating his status as popularly elected.
With Stahl’s view of the present, cramped by longing for the past—best not to think too much of the future as decade nine looms—she came to the White House to mock an elected president as a corrupt imposter. Hair blown, make-up perfect—almost a work of taxidermy—she so bumbled her interview with discourtesy masquerading as “tough questions” that it was cut short. She did not even get to ask her questions. Maybe some of them would have been important. Neither she nor the public will ever know because of her decision to be cantankerously impolite.
Stahl’s doddering opening of her interview set “60 Minutes” down the path to media Armageddon: having witnessed Stahl’s biased hostility, the White House chose to publish independently the full interview to blunt selective editing, a trademark of “60 Minutes” as it was pioneered by Mike Wallace.
There was a time when Stahl symbolized, whether or not you agree with her politics, tenacious high achievement. Breaking barriers in television media for women, Stahl helped forge a path for many other women. Today, a woman has as good or better shot at anchoring a news program as her male counterparts. News is delivered to us by (for the Right) a Kayleigh McEnany or (for the middle) a Harris Faulkner or (for the Left) an Erin Burnett or a Nicolle Wallace. Stahl helped make this happen.
But, as the children’s song goes, the old gray mare ain’t what she used to be. Someone at CBS needs to ask herself why it seemed like a good idea to let Stahl suck the oxygen out of the room for younger newswomen. Why not Elaine Quijano or Jennifer Miller? Why not just someone close enough to the questions of the age?
Watergate is over. The paradigms of Vietnam and the Cold War have died a natural death. The Republican Party of the 1980s committed to libertarian free trade über alles has been abandoned. Done. Kaput. Finis. The Republicans, now led by Trump and merely afflicted with Mitt Romney (R-Utah), are seeking to form a majority from the middle class against a feckless, selfish elite.
The Republican’s proposed policy is to support the value of the unskilled and semi-skilled labor through trade and immigration policies which shelter them from unlimited global competition. The Democrat’s proposed policy is to support tech and trade monopolies, a billionaire-plutocracy, and its overcompensated technocratic elite. Democrats seek to form a majority based on sycophantic flattery of tech and financial monied interests, identity politics pitting Americans against one another, a false promise of redistribution, and fear—fear of COVID-19, fear of climate change, fear of your neighbors, fear of everything.
These are things that Lesley Stahl is, quite simply, unlikely to understand. Greedily dominating her younger peers at CBS, she pulled up the ladder for other female correspondents for one last breakdance in the Roosevelt Room. And what a dance it was.
Give the youngsters—women in their 40s and 50s—a chance. Or to quote one of Stahl’s peers, “C’mon, man!”