David Zurawik

'60 Minutes,' Schieffer do skilled job in first prime-time Romney-Ryan interview

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney with Bob Schieffer on '60 Minutes'

Mitt Romney's campaign got its shot at introducing Paul Ryan to America Saturday morning in front of the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va. But the more important introduction in terms of mainstream America came Sunday night courtesy of '60 Minutes,' which scored the first sit-down TV interview with the Republican team.

I'm glad Schieffer and '60 Minutes'  were the ones the Romney campaign chose to talk to. The veteran Washington journalist and the production team from the most successful news show in the history of the medium handled the conversation as well as it could be handled. The questions were sound and informed, while the cameras were employed in such a way as to force viewers to focus on the words of the two men who could be the next president and vice president of the United States.


And there were probably 10 million Americans in front of their TV sets Sunday night either sitting down for their weekly ritual of watching '60 Minutes' or warming up the Barcalounger for Olympics closing ceremonies for this introduction. That's compared to the political junkies and little kids who couldn't find their favorite cartoon channels who were watching Saturday morning when Romney staged his coming out announcement party for Ryan.

Look, this wasn't a historic interview by any means. It was light years away in terms of cultural and psychic energy from Bill and Hillary Clinton fighting for his political life on '60 Minutes' after another "bimbo eruption" during the campaign.


But it still matters in a big way in 2012 in terms of millions of Americans outside the Dairy Belt getting to look Ryan in the eye -- or as close as most of us get to doing that in media-saturated culture where TV is still king.

Whereas Romney's team could drench Ryan in all kinds of military and red-white-and-blue imagery on Saturday morning during its staged event, CBS News producers wisely kept Romney, Ryan and Schieffer in very tight frames that showed almost nothing but the men as they talked in what Morley Safer said in his introduction to the interview was a furniture factory in High Point, North Carolina.

I would guess Romney's team picked the factory to emphasize jobs -- and their claim that they will succeed where President Obama has failed in putting Americans back to work.

But the visual staging of the interview took all that phony imagery away. Visually, the viewer was allowed to look at nothing but the men - no artificial props were allowed. All TV producers should be this diligent and wise in not allowing their cameras to be used by consultants and candidates.

What you did see - and what dominated visually - was the Tweedledum and Tweedledee look of the duo in the blue blazers and open-collared tattersall shirts.

Why did they choose not to wear ties - or suits and ties? Was it to try yet again to convince us that there really is a casual even laid-back Mitt somewhere behind the arrogance, entitlement and secrecy he usually oozes on TV?

OK, fine. It's hopeless, but give it a try.

But why go with the same-sames look? I don't know the answer to that one, but I do know I couldn't stop thinking what a strange choice it was. And the CBS framing technique emphasized it.


I will say this for Romney: He has looked about 10 years younger and 100 times more energized this weekend since announcing his choice.

In recent months, I thought he was looking more and more like FDR around the eyes --and I mean that in a bad way, with the dark semi-hollows.

But not last night. The campaign make-up crew got rid of the dark shadows, and his energized body language handled the rest.

Ryan does radiate a sense of energy, youthful vitality and extreme confidence. And it has energized Romney. But when Ryan ratchets the look up too far, you start thinking zealot.

All I will say about the interview itself is that Schieffer was well-prepared, asked most of the right questions and deftly followed up once or twice -- as when he pressed Ryan on his promise that he and Romney will take us back to an America where if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead.

"But people don't believe that any more," Schieffer said, "with the wealthy paying the lowest tax bills."


Schieffer took dead aim at the lie at the heart of that promise from two men who throughout their careers have insistently worked to help create and maintain a special set of rules for the wealthiest Americans.

Ryan gave an empty campaign-trail, talking-points answer about Obama and "crony capitalism." It had all the depth and relevance of Sarah Palin.

I will leave it to my brother and sister reporters on the campaign trail to dissect the words said on '60 Minutes' last night. I don't think the words amounted to that much for most viewers who just wanted to size this Ryan guy up.

The congressman from Wisconsin might be a big a idea man on Capitol Hill. But I don't think he played that way at all in American living rooms Sunday night -- dressing like the boss and giving empty, alliterative answers.