Colbert, Kissinger, and the Words that Should Have Been Said

One of the great gifts possessed by those of us who in the journalistic profession, is -  of course -  the ability to hear the words that should have been said, and weren’t. It’s like we’re psychic. I’m sorry we have this power, and you don’t.

 And when we don’t hear the magic words, we don’t rest until we hound the appropriate party – be it a president, a CEO, or let’s say, a Congressman who tweeted dirty photos of himself – til he says them.  (The words, Mr. Weiner, are “I resign.”)

That’s why my psychic abilities positively runneth over when I watched comedian Stephen Colbert interview former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on The Colbert Report, on June 13th.

Colbert acknowledged he was probably the only person in the studio old enough to remember (barely) the Nixon-Kissinger hay-day, and seemed mildly in awe of him, as if he had already partaken of Kissinger’s power – the “ultimate aphrodisiac.” 

Because my psychic journalistic abilities extend into pre-taping, as I watched the interview, I could hear Colbert and his production staff marvel at the fact that Kissinger – one of the greatest war criminals of the 20th century - would be on their stage, and nervously ask each other, “How far do we go?”

So let me use my psychic journalistic abilities to share with you some of the words that should have been said in his interview, but weren’t. My psychic words are italicized.

Colbert: “Kissinger’s support for the secret bombings in Cambodia has earned him criticism from Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Ellsberg, and everyone in Cambodia. [Wait for laughter.]  Yes, as architect of the campaign of carpet bombing eastern Cambodia in a misguided attempt to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail – Kissinger dropped more bombs in a four year period on Cambodia, plus in Vietnam and Laos, than were dropped by the US in the entirety of World War II.  Through that, and the illegal invasion of Cambodia, he brought about the rise to the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, whose Khmer Rouge who took over Cambodia in 1975 and killed at least a million people through starvation, torture and disease. The civil war that followed lasted 17 years.” 

Colbert:  “There are some out there who may not know the stature of the man sitting before me.  You have advised many presidents on diplomacy, you were Secretary of State to both Nixon and Ford, you received the Nobel Peace Prize for the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.  But really, what’s been forgotten is that in 1968, you – as a private citizen and part of the Nixon campaign  - went on a secret trip to Paris to meet with the South Vietnamese, convincing them to withdraw from peace talks until after Nixon was elected. That meant the war dragged on another four years, claiming another 20 thousand American lives, plus untold hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians.  A private citizen sabotaging peace talks in a time of war? There’s a word for that: treason. As Christopher Hitchens’ scholarship makes clear (in the link, above) you could have been hanged, by the laws that were on the books. In fact, after your Vietnamese counterpart refused to accept co-winning the Nobel Peace Prize with you, you attempted to decline it.

Hmm. Maybe some of my psychic journalistic abilities are really just snippets of institutional memory about the affairs of state, combined with research.  Colbert’s a comedian, so he gets a pass. But what of the other networks who are giving air-time to Kissinger?

Perhaps Kissinger’s handlers laid out the terms for the interview in advance, and journalists and producers spanning the networks caved because you need to fill air-time. The 24 hour news-cycle is a fickle, shallow beast.

Yes, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, I’m talking to you.  You should be embarrassed that Colbert did better. Fox?  Forget about it.  CBS  and Time had the decency to ask a few questions, but let all his answers slide by unchallenged. Even The New York Times  book review lets everything but China slip by unchallenged.

Because I’m psychic,  I already know your argument:  all these shows book Kissinger as a guest, he’s stumping for his new book on US-China relations, and Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, East Timor, Chile and all the rest of Kissinger’s murderous manipulations? Those aren’t relevant to our five minute segment.

That’s like interviewing captured Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadzic and limiting questions to his medical career.

And really, is Anthony Weiner ever going to live down the penis jokes?  Bill Clinton’s obituary is going to include the words “Monica Lewinsky,” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s marriage and career are over, for the simple reason we won’t ever forgive them their transgressions, even if their families do.

It’s just too bad that Henry Kissinger never got caught anywhere with his pants down. Maybe then we journalists would make better use of our psychic abilities to hear - and say -  the words that should have been said.