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Washington Post: We Deserve Better Than the Inanity of Tom Shales' Review

August 3, 2010

Earlier this year, the Washington Post published Tom Shales’ blustery response to ABC News’ announcement that Christiane Amanpour will be anchoring its Sunday morning news show, “This Week”--a decision the Women's Media Center called a banner moment for news media.  As Women’s Media Center President, Jehmu Greene, pointed out, Shales attempt at undermining Amanpour’s journalistic credentials, which have won multiple awards, only revealed his sexist and racist biases and not any critique of substance. Given his shallow contempt for Amanpour, it is surprising that the Washington Post ran his review of her debut last Sunday, one that--not surprisingly--continued to showcase Shales’ personal biases, even if it meant desperately clawing at minutiae to criticize her show.

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The most ludicrous remark that Shales made was highlighted last night on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann’s show in his “Worst Persons in the World” segment. Devoted to highlighting the top three inane comments in the media of the day, Olbermann highlighted Shales ' comments on Amanpour's “In Memoriam” segment of the ABC show. Shales wrote,
Perhaps in keeping with the newly globalized program, the commendable "In Memoriam" segment ended with a tribute not to American men and women who died in combat during the preceding week but rather, said Amanpour in her narration, in remembrance of "all of those who died in war" in that period. Did she mean to suggest that our mourning extend to members of the Taliban?
Yet, as Olbermann so obviously points out, the segment featured the names of the soldiers who died, which makes Shales’ point so laughable, if not disrespectful, that Olbermann suggests Amanpour include “Tom Shales’ career” in “In Memoriam” next week. Fact check much, Washington Post? But even when Shales chose to stick with the facts, he could barely muster anything substantial to say. Rather than acknowledge the fact that Amanpour had managed to secure exclusive interviews with top government officials who rarely grace Sunday morning news programming, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Shales chose instead to comment on the furniture. If readers were expecting an assessment of Amanpour’s interviewing skills or grasp of national issues, all they got was the observation that the roundtable segment featured a table that, “oddly enough, is no longer round, having been scrapped for one shaped like a lumpy old lima bean.” Did no one from the editorial department think to point out to Shales what a figure of speech is? What may lie beneath Shales’ comments, inane though they may be, is a deep-seated xenophobia that is mired in double standards. Indeed, his initial article signaled at his discomfort toward Amanpour’s Iranian and British heritage, implying that her ethnicity affects her objectivity as a journalist. This may explain why Shale repeatedly brings up Amanpour’s vast experience in international news reportage as though it were an impediment to her role as host. As Shales himself points out, Amanpour has said that she hopes to "open a window on the world," a unique approach to national politics that leverages her international experience. In fact, the online version of the article links to the ABC News-Washington Post jointly produced Top Line interview of Amanpour, where she explains that a globalized approach makes sense because Americans live in a globalized world, a fact that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan clearly recognizes, whom she cites as saying that the children of America need to be able to compete globally. As she rightly points out, the United States is “the most important and powerful nation in the world but it is no longer an island”; hence, the rational choice in widening the show’s perspective to show how U.S. national policies affect people around the world just as much as international events affect Americans. Granted, this is a review and Shales is entitled to his opinions, but does he provide any valid reasons as to why he dislikes this approach? Aside from simply insisting that this is not how it used to be done, Shales offers little else. Where readers might expect an argument as to why the traditional approach still works in a globalized world, we get a snide remark that a show which plays to its host’s strengths must mean that Amanpour is seeking attention for herself. Of course, when it comes to Shales’ preferred choice for host, Jake Tapper, it suffices that he is “adept and likable,” and a “‘favorite son’” for certain Facebook groups. If this isn’t enough evidence of favoritism and bias on Shales’ part, surely the name-calling he resorts to (“globe-trotting Fancy-Pants” and the “Grand Duchess Amanpour”) should have alerted editors to his skewed perspective. Send a letter to the editors of the Washington Post, telling them that you’d like to hear fair and balanced critique in their cultural analysis, not inane remarks and baseless name-calling. Whatever one thinks of Amanpour’s performance on Sunday, surely it is not too much for readers to expect a well written review, not a platform to air one’s personal biases. In running Shales’ piece, the Washington Post not only sends the message that an accomplished journalist like Amanpour does not deserve top quality commentary that her career has earned. It also demeans readers who take the media seriously.