David Zurawik

Obama, Hillary, Palin and prime-time TV writing first draft of history

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton trying to write first draft of history on her tenure as secretary of state on '60 Minutes' Sunday

The joint appearance by President Obama and Hillary Clinton on "60 Minutes" wasn't about the Democratic nomination in 2016, as some analysts have insisted this weekend.

Watching the actual interview Sunday night, I am certain it was about something both much more immediate and long lasting. It was President Obama using TV – and the folks at "60 Minutes" happily allowing themselves to be used – to write the first draft of history on Clinton's performance as secretary of state.


In a most immediate and partisan sense, it was Obama using one of the biggest tents in popular culture to slap down Senators Rand Paul and Ron Johnson for their insistence during the Benghazi hearing last week that Clinton was not worthy of the office she held.

It was as if Obama was saying, "You guys think you're going to shape the perception of her tenure with your grandstanding attacks in a Senate hearing. Watch this. I can have the biggest news audience in television, one of the biggest audiences in all of popular culture with this Top 10 show, any time I want it. CBS News always plays ball with me -- ever since I gave them that exclusive with my "brain trust" right after the election in 2008. This is how you use TV to write the first draft of history. And, by the way, boys, it isn't journalism writing the first draft, as you guys like to say. This is stage-managed, prime-time show-biz TV doing it."


I say that because the CBS News interviewer, Steve Kroft, sure didn't look as if he was doing anything I would call journalism in his softball interview, especially when he brought up the issue of the 2008 primary campaign and failed to ask Clinton about her husband, the former president, saying in no uncertain terms that the Obama campaign had played "the race card" on him after the South Carolina primary -- to the point where he felt compelled to say he wasn't a racist. Read about it here and here, just in case your memory and sense of research are as lacking and lame as that of CBS News.

I am thinking about the way prime-time show-biz TV shapes our shared memory this weekend, because of the whimpering end to Sarah Palin's dance with fame that we witnessed Friday night when it was confirmed that she was gone from Fox News after a spotty three-year run.

I know there's a report that Fox offered her a contract and she declined, so she wasn't technically dumped. But offering someone a contract that's a slap in the face is just another way of dumping them while having the P.R. advantage of you saying you offered and they declined. And such duplicity is standard operating procedure for both parties in this misadventure. Fox News ditched Sarah Palin, make no mistake about it -- whether or not she was offered a contract.

And with good reason: She is as much yesterday's news as Kate Gosselin. And you know what made her such a pathetic loser instead of the golden light of the far right? HBO's prime-time docudrama "Game Change."

In my preview of the film, I said it would not only shred any credibility she had left, but that it would also define the way she is remembered by history – at least, in the short term.

And I saw at least one report this weekend on the end of her Fox career suggesting that lately she looked more like the character played by Julianne Moore than the meteor that lit the sky over the GOP convention in 2008.

Oh yeah, a footnote: Moore won a Screen Actors Guild Award Sunday night for her portrayal of Palin as a scheming, silly, desperate, wreck out of her depth in 2008 as soon as she was asked about government, history, geography or any of the things most of us learned about in college if not high school.

It was about the 10,000th award "Game Change" and Moore have won for that depiction of Palin.


But while awards are nice, the power to write history is even better -- especially in Washington.

And that's what Obama was doing on "60 Minutes" Sunday night when he talked about Hillary Clinton's "extraordinary contributions" and how she "would go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we've ever had."