Jaw, jaw


Two recent Charlie Rose interviews are worth your attention. Well, lots of Charlie Rose interviews are worth your attention, but two fit in with recent Inkless obsessions. First, Québécois pianist Alain Lefèvre discusses his fascination for composer André Mathieu, who died young (38, in 1968) and composed younger (he was mostly done writing by the time he was 20). International critics have responded enthusiastically to Mathieu and Lefèvre; Lefèvre struggles a bit with his English but nobody can miss how excited he is to be promoting his homeboy around the world. When he describes how he felt to watch a choir in Tucson learning phonetic French to sing the music of a composer who was forgotten even in Quebec a decade ago, it’s quite a moment.

Then, Robert Gates, Bush’s second defence minister and Obama’s first. When he talks about how the civilian foreign service and international development-assistance capabilities of the U.S. have been “systematically eroded” for 40 years — when he pleads for “the soft side, if you will” of foreign policy — he sounds more like Lloyd Axworthy than like the top man at the Pentagon. And of course there’s some lightly revisionist thinking on Afghanistan. I’m going to get off this Gates kick pretty soon, I suspect; defence secretaries don’t make policy the way presidents do. But this guy’s current thinking is fascinating and, I suspect, will horrify our colleague Mark Steyn.

Charlie Rose may not be a perfect interviewer, but he is pretty darned good, and in a desert he’s like a glass of water. In Canada, Peter Mansbridge, Allan Gregg and Steve Paikin do a good deal of this sort of long-form interview journalism, interviews that in their choice of topic and tone grant the audience the compliment of assuming they’ll be interested in things that are interesting. But I think there’s still room for more long-attention-span television than we’re getting.


Jaw, jaw

  1. Isn’t Gates Obama’s token hawk to appease the military/industrial complex?

    • no

  2. His main point about the “soft side” was that intelligence resources were being used to cover off stuff that diplomats should do because there weren’t enough diplomats to do the job. Excuse my cynicism, but ‘legal’ spies need diplomatic cover – less diplomats means less diplomatic cover. Just saying.

  3. Thank you.

  4. “But I think there’s still room for more long-attention-span television than we’re getting.”

    Jumped on that sentiment with a rousing YES, WTF! Antiques Road Show instead of Charlie Rose. Then I realized — if Rose occupied the 8:00 p.m. time slot — I would miss Steve Paiken (here in the Big Smoke). And what about Bill Moyers?

    So I say to myself, “Be careful what you wish for.”

    Interestingly, CBC Sunday Report had a piece about Rory Stewart and Turquoise Mountain that gave some colour to your magazine story.

    So then, all the information in our world will lack the gravity of a single compelling story.

    Thanks for your stories, Mr. Wells.

  5. Agree with you about the appetite for long form stories. I think, as well, this extends to print journalism.

  6. Longer Interviews from a single perspective might be better than short interviews from a single perspective but without reportage it’s still little more than stenography to power.

  7. Paul,

    With regards to your facination with Robert Gates, have you heard of, or read Thomas P.M. Barnett?

    His books, particularly The Pentagon’s New Map are worth a read. Here’s his weblog.


  8. Frankly, in a lot of places some stenography would be an excellent start. I wish I remember who said that the job of most White House reporters is to stand on the front lawn every night sounding skeptical about what the president said that day. The “sounding” is key: as long as you affect some arch I-don’t-know-about-you-but-I’m-certainly-not-in-anyone’s-tank tone with regard to everything, it doesn’t matter whether you understand what’s happening or can help your readers understand. That “The president claims… lets you sound adversarial without even having to read anything.

    Funny thing about people with power: they have power. I think it’s handy to know how their heads work, because they’re for damned sure going to exercise some power and you might as well at least try to see them coming. They may even have power and motives, for all you or I know.

    • Paul re: ‘…power and motives…’
      Maybe you should consider other possibilities? I’m reading E Aronsons book on cognitive dissonance. It;s making a believer of me.

    • Seems to me the reporter on the lawn thing goes together well with fawning end of the year exclusive interviews. Pseudo objectivity in both instances.

  9. end italics.

    I actually met Gates briefly while he was president of Texas A&M University in, maybe, 2004. He was at a conference complaining that national-security obsessions were making it way too hard for him to run a good school because, for instance, he couldn’t let a smart Iranian grad student run a sophisticated centrifuge because Homeland Security would interpret that as a case of exporting the technology to a shady regime. Interesting position to take, given his national-security past and futre. Thanks for the link, AK.

  10. Gates isn’t particularly hawkish, from what I recall. He’s more of a pragmatist who’s been known to fight to military-industrial complex when necessary, & has given some hints that its influence needs to be reduced to make the military more effective against the types of threads it is currently encountering.


  11. Fascination with, please. If Lefevre is fascinated by or with Mathieu, then Mathieu has a fascination for Lefevre.

  12. This is a little Canadian-bashing courtesy Robert Gates:
    I suppose that Pamela Wallin and Robert Gates are on the same page, old buddies, old pals. I find it pretty sick, the circles of gossip mongerers who get play, the people who get the podiums, and how they get to speak so much untruth and then how, noone questions. I reserve ‘fascination’ and ‘intrigue’ for another lifetime. What is here, now, is pathetic posturing by so many losers.

  13. Thanks Paul for this wonderful Christmas present. It was amazing to watch the interaction between Charlie Rose and Alain Lefèvre.

    It puts the story of PM Harper’s rather sad turn on Senate Reform in larger perspective!!

    Canada needs more people like Mathieu who give so much joy and ask for so little in return. Canada needs far fewer unprincipled and cynical politicians.

    Season’s greetings to you and your family.

  14. For those who like the long form journalistic interview, I highly recommend the BBC program HARDtalk, which you can find here :


    You can of course also get it on cable in many areas.

    Stephen Sackur knows his business and asks the right questions, no matter how difficult they are. You may be a bit confused when you watch his interviews as to which side of an issue he is on – he really wants to get at the truth, so asks questions from all angles in the hope of getting close to it. For Sackur, nothing is given. Although the questioning sometimes seems aggressive, Sackur also sometimes asks questions which allow an interviewee to refute a line his questioning previously took. He is one of the few interviewers I have ever watched who listens to the answers and forms new questions on the basis of these answers rather than just ploughing through a script.

    This is truly a program which has no peer in North America. I wish more journalists in this country would follow his good example.

  15. I would not lump Mansbridge in with Paikin and Gregg

  16. Bonjour Alain, Alors après avoir vu et attendu tout ton talent je me pose encore la question penses tu être suffisamment célèbre et reconnu pour penser à moi Georges Le Neurès ton parrain et ami éternel de ton père. Penses tu encore à la sonate pour piano ” symphonie pour deux mains et pour demain” quel honneur et reconnaissance pour moi si tu prenais le temps de me jouer. Moi je pense à vous dans le Perche et j’ai 86 ans je compose et écris encore pour vous les amis. Profite encore de ma présence pour me faire honneur. Consacre un peu de ton temps à la personne qui a été à la base de ton talent en découvrant ton père André et en lui donnant mon amour ma culture et appris la musique et évidemment vous l’a transmis. Cette amour musical et spirituel que je lui ai apporté coule aujourd’hui dans vos mains.
    Quel dommage de me laisser. Rappel toi ” Tu seras reconnu quand tu joueras ma sonate” et toi tu m’as dit quand je serai célèbre je te jouerai Georges. EH Oui……..

  17. Et ton premier piano Yamaha c’est moi qui te l’ai offert. Te souviens tu…

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