Schwarzkopf gives winning performance, generally speaking

March 27, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf is hot television.

And, tonight at 8 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), interviewer David Frost gets his hour sitting in front of the fire. Part of Schwarzkopf's heat comes from the way our culture celebrates its winning generals -- from George Washington to Dwight Eisenhower.

Part of it comes from the way Schwarzkopf comes across on television as someone who knows what he is doing.

Part is timing. Schwarzkopf started appearing on TV at a time when many were looking for a leader. He came to represent a renewed sense of American self-assurance.

But the simple truth is that Schwarzkopf gives a good TV interview. And all the elements are on display tonight. He's intense and focused. He fixes his eyes on Frost's and never unlocks them. The effect is that, unlike politicians, the general seems totally unconcerned about the camera.

L He's combative. He does not pussyfoot for fear of offending.

When asked about seeing American POWs on television, Schwarzkopf says, "I did not like CNN aiding and abetting the enemy, who was violating the Geneva Convention [by showing the POWs]. . . . I just think that in the future, the people who choose to justify such actions as representing the peoples' right to know, better check with the public first."

He seems abnormally candid. Frost asked him about his decision after the war to let the Iraqis use helicopters, which are now reportedly being used against insurgents. "They suckered me," Schwarzkopf says loudly.

Then he repeats the "suckered" line twice. It is confessional and colloquial -- two things that almost always play great on television, especially when it comes from the mouths of the mighty.

He's a warrior who freely talks philosophically -- quoting from biography, plays and novels during the interview, which was taped March 20.

Throughout, Frost is low-key. Overall, nothing earthshaking is said. But that's not what the hour is about.

The interview ends with a choir's singing "America The Beautiful" while the names of Americans who died in the gulf roll across a screen showing the Statue of Liberty.

Norman Schwarzkopf's relation to those symbols and emotions is what this hour is about.

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