On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace wasn’t interviewing President Obama or Hillary Clinton or any of the Republican presidential candidates like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie or Jeb Bush.
Instead, he conversed with an anonymous woman named Ginnie Watson, who spoke with a British accent and with great emotion and vivid detail from overseas.
Ms. Watson was in the Paris music hall Friday night when radical Islamic terrorists of ISIS charged in and murdered at least 89 people with bursts of automatic weapons fire.
“I heard gunshots and they didn’t stop,” she told Mr. Wallace via what looked like Skype technology. “It was non-stop, just ‘Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!’”
Ms. Watson choked back sobs and blinked back tears. Mr. Wallace guided her gently, asking appropriate questions and letting Ms. Watson answer with a riveting stream of consciousness.
“It’s very surreal, you know, it’s like it’s not happening in a way,” she said. “We, we ducked and we, we, we, we hid and then we, we kind of creeped toward the safety exit with a whole lot of other people.”
Her rapid repetition of first-person pronouns added a powerful cadence to her clear narrative flow. Once outside the building, they quickly learned of the attack’s magnitude and of several others at the same time.
Fox did many more things well in Sunday’s extraordinary show, but this was the most compelling. With friends, Ms. Watson said, she escaped down back-balcony emergency exit stairs just before bullets strafed their seating area.
“The horror of it came gradually, as we walked away,” Ms. Watson said, pausing and sighing deeply. “I’m, I’m angry, I’m upset, I’m shaking, my heart’s beating, and I can’t get warm. I’m cold. I’m shivering. I-I-I-I don’t think I’m realizing what actually happened. It’s still sinking in.”
Referring to getting out in what she called the knick of time, Ms. Watson added “So the universe was on my side. I don’t know what to say. It’s horrible. It’s absolutely horrible.”
When Mr. Wallace ended the interview with comforting words, Ms. Watson flashed a brave smile while holding back tears.
“Thank you so much for listening,” she said.
‘There are almost a billion young Muslims under the age of 30 across the world. That’s the pool from which extremists are recruiting.’
Like all the shows, Mr. Wallace was forced to accept what the White House offered in terms of spokesmen. It was Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser.
Should France invoke Article 5 of the NATO agreement, saying an attack on one is an attack on all, Mr. Rhodes said, “we will stand shoulder to shoulder.” But, he added, “We do not believe that there is a solution to the challenge in Syria or Iraq that involves significant numbers of U.S. combat troops.”
“Mr. Rhodes,” asked Mr. Wallace, “hasn’t the president, haven’t all of you around him, haven’t you profoundly misjudged the strength, the capabilities and the ambitions of ISIS?”
“No,” Mr. Rhodes began, going on to say the President has long said the terrorist caliphate will be a long-term challenge.
In that Fox generally represents the right-wing, conservative and Republican point of view, Mr. Wallace’s primary political guests were Congressman Peter King (R-NY) of the House Intelligence Committee and presidential candidate Ben Carson, who is second to Mr. Trump in most of the Republican polls.
Mr. King quickly challenged Mr. Rhodes’ assertion that refugees from the Syrian civil war are fully checked out before they enter the United States, among other nations.
“What he just said about the robust vetting of refugees is untrue,” Mr. King said. “There is virtually no vetting.”
Mr. King also suggested religious profiling by law enforcement.
“Political correctness aside, Chris, we have to have surveillance in the Muslim communities,” Mr. King said. “That’s where the threat is coming from.”
When Mr. King said, “We’re in a sad state when we’re looking to the president of France to provide international leadership that’s needed against ISIS,” Mr. Wallace could have responded with, “But isn’t that logical in that France was the nation attacked?”
But Mr. Wallace merely thanked Mr. King for stopping by. When Mr. Carson appeared, Mr. Wallace was harsher, pressing the former surgeon and political neophyte on what he would do if he were commander in chief. Who would you call first? Mr. Wallace asked, three times.
He never really got a direct answer. Mr. Carson somehow drifted into a discussion of frontal brain lobes and how humans differ from animals until Mr. Wallace asked Mr. Carson about his perplexing recent claim that the Chinese were part of the war in Syria.
Mr. Carson said he never said the Chinese were fighting.
And when Mr. Carson proposed instituting a no-fly zone over Syria, Mr. Wallace seemed incredulous in that the Russians are already flying in the skies there to drop bombs.
“You’re talking about getting into a shooting war with Russia over Syria,” Mr. Wallace said.
Mr. Carson, who said he has talked with Henry Kissinger, kind of shrugged it off.
“That’s the very definition of a no-fly zone,” he said. “You can’t fly there.”
In a savvy panel discussion, Charles Lane and George Will of The Washington Post offered cogent observations.
Mr. Lane said the ISIS goal is an attempt to show the U.S. “No, you can’t fight this by remote control. You can’t fight this through limited means. If you want to fight us at all, it’s got to be total war.”
Mr. Will said, “In a grim sense, worse is better” because ISIS has identified itself as a state. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to destroy NATO and “he’s watching it with those cold eyes of his saying ‘What are they going to do if France does this?’ It would be interesting to know if there is pressure on France not to invoke that article.”
One final note—and that’s the right word—about Fox’s artistic presentation. The show opened with slightly mournful piano music and a montage of 20 images in 60 seconds, most of them stills, most of them dissolving into each other.
Sure, slow piano treatment on sad stories on TV is a cliché but so is the organ at church. And slow-piano gets overdone by TV producers to dramatize little figure skaters and gymnasts at the Olympics who fought back from their boo-boos.
But it the aftermath of the Paris attacks, this combination of music and photos on Fox had perfect pitch. The screen showed victims of the attack and long shots of carnage on the streets.
They used the same audio/visual technique on all the bumps to commercials. The show ended with a jarring clip of the lights of the Eiffel Ttower being turned off, section by section, at night. Last was a live shot Sunday afternoon, Paris time, of mourners leaving flowers on the bullet-pocked sidewalks of the City of Light.
‘This is a clash of civilizations. There is no middle ground. Either they win or we win.’
THE MONEY SHOT: Shortly before noon, CNN carried a video from inside the working lunch of the meeting of the Group of 20 in Turkey. It showed President Obama and President Putin sitting off to the side of the room, leaning urgently toward one another and talking seriously and at length in an unplanned conference… The body language was much different from their tense handshake at the United Nations last month. A mere 70 years ago, their two nations did the most to defeat Nazi Germany. Perhaps they again have common ground in a common enemy. ISIS claimed it took down a Russian commercial flight earlier in the week.
WHERE WAS DONALD TRUMP? The businessman Republican candidate who still leads most of the polls usually calls in to the Sunday shows for a telephone chat about his greatness and his wealth and the flaws of everyone else. Aside from a clip or two here and there, Mr. Trump was not to be found as most shows sought serious people with legitimate opinions. Perhaps he needed a timeout after his rant last week in Iowa in which, among other things, he implied Iowans were stupid.
WHAT’S in a BAND’s NAME? Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on NBC showed the scene from the music hall when gunshots of terrorists blended in with the beat of a drummer’s sticks until people realized what was going on and the musicians fled the stage. The band’s name, Eagles of Death Metal, is purposely ironic, intentionally tongue-in-cheek, but it is now and forever more so than they intended… Another video showed Republican candidate Ted Cruz with head bowed in prayer and hands clasped together in front of him. “This evil—radical Islamic terrorism—needs to be called out,” Mr. Cruz said… Mr. Todd asked Republican candidate Jeb Bush if he would trust Mr. Trump or Mr. Carson as commander in chief. “I don’t know,” Mr. Bush said. “I’m more concerned with Hillary Clinton.” Gene Robinson of the MTP panel said, “A large portion of the Republican electorate doesn’t want to put boots on the ground. That is a fact. There is something in the air of unreality about the discussion.”
TOO TAME A TONE: On CBS, Face the Nation with John Dickerson seemed caught short by the terrorism. Having hosted Saturday’s Democratic presidential debate, there was an inclination to give too much time to this secondary story. The show lacked visual impact. Among the best of the talking heads was William Bratton, New York’s top cop, who said terrorists communicate without detection now because of “the commercialism and selling of these (encryption) devises that cannot be accessed either by the manufacturer or, more importantly, by us in law enforcement… ISIS has mastered social media.” Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute said, “If we don’t do something, we will see what happened in Paris in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, somewhere in the United States.” Fareh Pandith of the Council on Foreign Relations said, “There are almost a billion young Muslims under the age of 30 across the world. That’s the pool from which the extremists are recruiting.” Peggy Noonan said Bernie Sanders’ linkage of climate change and terror “makes him, to many people, look slightly daffy.”
GLITCHES MAR ABC: This Week started awkwardly with two sound tracks playing at the same time early in the show. George Stephanopoulos showed part of his interview with President Obama recorded on Thursday, the day before the terrorism. “What we have not been able to do is to completely decapitate their command-and-control structures,” the President said… Pierre Thomas, ABC’s senior justice correspondent, said ISIS sends out 90,000 messages a day to potential recruits. “They want to kill, kill, kill,” he said… Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, said he was puzzled when Hillary Clinton would not say we are at war with Islam. “That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we’re afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi party but weren’t violent themselves,” Mr. Rubio said “This is a clash of civilizations. There is no middle ground. It’s either they win or we win… there will have to be a significant American engagement.” Bill Kristol, who occasionally issues war declarations from a television studio, said: “If it takes 50,000 troops going in there, do it,” he said.
On CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper seemed angrier than usual, mocking the President’s words with sarcasm. “If this is what ISIS looks like contained,” Tapper said, “I shudder to think what ISIS looks like uncontained.” When Mr. Rhodes said the U.S. tries to say one step ahead of terrorist groups, Mr. Tapper replied: “One step ahead? We don’t seem to be one step ahead of any terrorist group these days.” He added that “People are concerned that the President has underestimated ISIS in the past, calling them a J.V. team.” Mr. Tapper took issue when Mr. Rhodes used the phrase ‘ramp up.’ “Why are you ready to ramp it up now?” Mr. Tapper demanded. “Why aren’t you already ramped it up? (sic)” …Although the warhawk Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona was not visible Sunday, his ally, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, told Mr. Tapper “We don’t have until the next election to deal with ISIL. There’s a 9-11 coming and it’s coming from Syria if we don’t disrupt their operations in Syria. Let’s rally the world, form an army… lead it. Go on the ground and destroy ISIL before they attack our country… Without American boots on the ground, in Syria and Iraq, we’re going to get hit here at home and if you don’t understand that you’re not ready to be commander in chief.”
Disclosure: Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is the publisher of Observer media.