Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kerry O'Brien: a Rare Exception to a Rule

Last night I had the unadulerated pleasure of watching Kerry O'Brient tie up Malcolm Turnbull into a knot and toss him into a corner, where the Australian would-be-PM lay still without any hope of recovery of his battered image.

As readers of this blog probably know, I have no love for politicians and only marginally less 'no love' for journalists. Give me a chance to have a go at either ilk and I will yield to the temptation without hesitation.

While politicians have yet to offer me examples of 'exceptions that test the rule', journalists have provided at least two. One of them is a dear friend of mine, the author of Shell Game: A True Story of Banking, Spies, Lies, Politics-And the Arming of Saddam Hussein, an exposé of Saddam's machinations and shenanigans inside the US business world long before the whole affair turned into a major, still-ongoing, war. The man is an investigative journalist with a mind like a steel trap, persistence that would make a bulldog jealous and a level of personal integrity that, if just some of it found its way to the NYT, would provide some major assistance to resurrecting that from its slide into total ethical and journalistic decrepitude.

The other example of 'exception to the rule' I watch on TV almost every weekday, because I get the feeling that here is a guy who not only carefully prepares his material, but who is also capable of actually having a genuine emotional stake in this game, which, after years and years of it, can only jade those involved in it. Or damage their brains—as I may have mentioned. Several times.

There are other interviewers around who give politicians good grillings, but I get the feeling that these guys mainly play a game. It's like they're just playing out a battle of wits, but without real substance. Everybody knows the game, and you gotta play it, I suppose.

Except that in the case of Kerry O'Brien I have a notion that, while he, too, knows 'the game', he nonetheless is somehow beyond the rules that say "play it, and play it like you oughta". I have watched him carefully over the time that I've seen his post-evening-news show, and I think to detect a genuine—carefully suppressed because you're not supposed to show it; not if you actually feel it!—anger at politician's sleaze-ball-ery. There's ethical outrage here, carefully controlled by many years of experience on the job, plus, dare I say it?, life-experience.

Last night all of that focused into persistent and unrelenting questioning on certain points related to recent shady dealing of Turnbull's—plus potentially other opposition members—with a certain ethically-challenged and probably personally very troubled, 'public servant' in the Treasury Department. It was a pleasure to watch.

Any Australians reading this: don't waste your time on crappy commercial station programs. The 7:30 Report is probably the best post-news 'magazine' programme I've ever come across. It wouldn't be, of course, if it weren't for Mr. O'Brien. Those living outside Australia: many of the program's features are available as videos and/or transcripts.

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