You needed more than one DVR to keep track of the three high-profile interviews appearing at the same time last night, each irresistible for wildly different reasons, each dramatic enough to sound like a long-running series. There was Gabrielle Gifffords’ remarkable, touchingly partial recovery shown in all its tough reality and hope, as she and her husband, Mark Kelly, talked to Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20. Meanwhile, loyal Gloria Cain appeared with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News to deny those sexual-harassment charges against her husband, Herman. And NBC’s magazine Rock Center had its first major coup with the kind of interview that makes you want to scream and run as much as watch: Bob Costas did a tough, stomach-churning phone interview with Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State coach accused of molesting small boys amid a devastating university coverup.
You could see the inspirational tone of the Giffords interview coming for days – actually you did see it in ABC’s endless promotional clips – but it was immensely moving and informative anyway. There was video of Giffords two weeks, and then five weeks after having been shot, huge scars on her forehead and skull, struggling to find words, calling almost everything a chicken, as if she were a character in an Oliver Sacks book.
But she has made astonishing progress. When we finally heard her speak, her words were clear, but they were words and simple phrases, not yet complex sentences. She understands and is locked inside her limited language. Yet she is also unmistakably the hopeful, optimistic person she was before. Along with revealing some mysteries of language, the hour illuminated the mystery of personality. I am a cynic about uplifting shows, but Giffords reinvents inspiration. Here’s a sample:
Gloria Cain’s interview was wildly overshadowed by the others, and why not? She was talking to Van Susteren, the preferred friendly journalist of Sarah Palin and other media-challenged right-wing politicians. Poised but clearly uncomfortable, Mrs. Cain said that her husband “would have to have a split personality to do the things that were said.” Well, yes, acting like someone with a split personality – leading a dual life – is practically the definition of any cheating spouse. To her credit, Van Susteren did bring up that possibility, which only gave Mrs. Cain another opportunity to bat it away. I don’t know if Cain did or didn’t harass women – although five is a lot of accusers – but I know his wife’s rationale is laughable.
She didn’t help his cause by saying he’s so “old-school” in his manners that he walks on the outside of the sidewalk when he’s with a woman so she doesn’t get run down by a car. Which is relevant how? You have to feel sorry for her, so obviously pained but staying on message, trotted out as the supportive political wife. Talk about old-school. That model of the political spouse has been replaced by more complicated independent Good Wives (thank you, Julianna Margulies.) Mrs. Cain’s appearance seemed especially irrelevant because her husband was self-destructing in a whole new way. He floundered so badly trying to answer a question about whether he agreed with Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya that the video went viral. You can actually see him trying to remember: hmm, Libya, which one is that? There is a video moment to replay.
You wouldn’t want to replay any of Costas’ interview; once was more than enough. Costas grilled Sandusky with specific charges, and because it was a phone conversation, with Sandusky off camera, at times Costas was staring into the camera as if we were being grilled. But he was a good surrogate for all the questions we’d want to ask in the face of Sandusky’s implausible denials. How could someone have imagined or misinterpreted having seen Sandusky raping a boy in a shower, Costas asked? When Costas asked if he was sexually attracted to underage boys, Sandusky said, “Sexually attracted? … I enjoy young people.” (Ewwwww!) Then he denied any attraction.
If you were lucky, you watched the horrifying sex abuse story first, then followed it with Giffords, whose bright spirit seems even more radiant in contrast.