Monday, December 15, 2008

Sixty Minutes: Your Time is Up !!!

In the days before computers, office humour was not e-mailed or urled but photocopied. There was a large body of office humour that ranged from aphorisms to cartoons to anecdotes.

One of my favourite pieces of office humour was a list of signs that not all was well. It was titled “You know it’s going to be a bad day when ….”

Following are a few exerpts.

You know it’s going to be a bad day when

1)your twin sister forgets your birthday.
2)you wake
up face down on the pavement.

3)you wake up to discover that your water bed broke and then you realize that you don’t have a water bed.
our horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell’s Angels on the freeway.

I was watching Sixty Minutes last night and recalled one line in this old piece of office humour.

You know it’s going to be a bad day when you see a “60 Minutes news team” waiting in your outer office.

I thought maybe there was a mistake. The Sixty Minutes that I remember watching as a kid bore no resemblance to the joke or to my childhood memories. Sixty Minut

es last night was interviewing Barney Frank. Barney Frank is the head of the Senate Finance Committee. His Committee was charged with the oversight of Fannie Nae and Freddie Mac housing loans. Instead of overseeing, they overlooked. The banking crisis was caused in large part by the proliferation of bad loans secured by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Far from being a prophetic voice of warning, Barney Frank is on record throughout the years leading up to the final collapse as defending the soundness of the entities under his supervision and decryingthe ‘fearmongering’ of its critics.

You would think that this would be enough to launch an old style segment of the classic program into some classic confrontation. That is what I was expecting. And I was mistaken, badly mistaken.

When Barney Frank was interviewed by Leslie Stahl, it was almost entirely on Frank’s terms. He was given softball questions. It was almost more like a testimonial dinner, in which he was painted as a likeable gadfly.

“I wanted to read you a sampling of descriptions of you. They kind of come in couplets. We have, ‘Impatient and antisocial.’ ‘Sharp tongued and downright mean,’” Stahl ticks off a list.

“I’m antisocial, there’s no question about it. I think that I love this job. But the biggest problem is there are thousands of people in Washington who earn a living by trying to waste my time. They repeat themselves. They ask you stupid questions.

Despite widespread conservative criticism, the Sixty Minutes interview painted a picture of bipartisan respect for Frank that minimised the heated controversy revolving around his committee management.

It’s no wonder that when “saber tooth” the liberal took over the committee that oversees banking, Wall Street shuddered. But two years later, even the most hardened Republicans give him good reviews.

“I’m very proud of the fact I think we’ve shown with the last two years, and we will show going forward, that you can be a liberal Democrat and cooperate in creating the kind of climate that’s good for business as well as for everybody else,”

When Bill O’ Reilly spoke with Frank, things got very heated. When you are dealing with a financial meltdown, there is going to be a search for causes. When you are searching for causes, culprits are never far away. Frank did not want his Fannie in the fire. And he worked very hard, especially in an election year to push the blame off on the Republicans.

Leslie Stahl was nothing like Mike Wallace. She did not make Barney Frank blush or squirm. He interview was like a drive through a safari park. You see lions and tigers. You hear them roar. But everything is safe. You’re just driving through. You’re going home to dinner. There will be no surprises. The lion will not choke on your shirt buttons.

In the age of blogs and the internet, you can do your own investigating. But if you want a confrontation, you still need a Mike Wallace or Bill O’Reilly to spar on your behalf.

People used to tune in Sixty Minutes to watch confrontation. That is what I was expecting. And I was disappointed.

At a garage near my first apartment was a German Shepherd that in his younger years lived up to the expression “meaner that a junkyard dog”. He lived seventeen lived or eighteen years. In his latter years, he was a gentle creature, blind and meek. My toddlers grew fond of him during visits to the garage. He was fed and sheltered out of gratitude until his death, although he had to endure the humiliation of a younger dog sharing quarters with him.

Sixty Minutes has been around since 1968. For a TV program it is ancient. It reminds me of the blind gentle dog in the garage near my newlywed apartment that spent its latter years with a younger and fiercer companion. Sixty Minutes has lost its fierceness. There’s room in the garage. But we need a new junkyard dog.

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