With at least one local lefty likening Jeff Passolt to Bill O’Reilly, it’s time to check out the latest dust-up involving the Fox9 anchor’s newsmaker interviews.
It’s another get-out-the-popcorn moment for Passolt. Last month, I wrote about him grilling a small-town mayor who wanted to keep a library; one of the anchor’s presumptions about dwindling “big-city” library use was wrong. This time, you can enjoy the spectacle of a white man arguing with Native American activist Clyde Bellecourt about … immigration.
Yes, it’s the guy whose ancestors came over on a boat arguing with a guy whose ancestors got here first on a land bridge!
At one point during the discussion of Arizona’s controversial state immigration law, Bellecourt notes, “The only immigrants I know came across the water, and they came by the hundreds and thousands, and look at the genocide.”
It’s easy to see the O’Reilly resemblance: Passolt runs hot in these confrontations, and because his questions embrace conservative principles, comes off as having that agenda.
For example, Passolt characterizes Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent support for English as the state’s official language as “English first,” a balmy way of describing a policy where state documents would only be printed in English. (Bellecourt, noting a history of white Americans suppressing Native languages, earlier said, “Even our governor here … would like to see only English spoken.”)
Like O’Reilly, Passolt is not afraid to invoke his personal history (at one noting his people came over on a boat, and reminding Bellecourt that Natives “scalped innocent women and children”), and even his compliments can feel patronizing. Not a smooth interviewer, he can be an interrupter (sometimes justifiably), and is prone to boiling down guests’ answers in an unfair and pejorative way.
Still, to me anyway, Passolt doesn’t seem as mean-spirited as O’Reilly, and I don’t think this is as disrespectful as much of talk radio. Besides, in all but extreme cases, I tend to give aggressive questioners a break regardless of their ideological stripe.
Frankly, this heart-on-the-sleeve approach, whatever its faults, produces six relatively interesting minutes of local TV news.
Those opposed to Arizona’s law may groan at Passolt’s viewpoints, but Bellecourt, for one, is grateful for the opportunity to mix it up. Yes, Bellecourt is one of the media’s “usual suspects,” but I think his responses were mostly thoughtful and, to some viewers anyway, not often heard.
I know rivals are watching for Fox9 to turn into Fox News (even as lefties say that’s KSTP’s bailiwick) and that six-minute interviews are as much about producing cheap as interesting content. As I’ve noted before about partisan TV news, local stations play with fire should they noticeably tilt one way (ask righties about Don Shelby). But maybe some news executives are crazy like a fox.