Archive for Sunday, May 2, 2004

Mornings on NPR won’t be the same

May 2, 2004


— This Monday morning will be different. For the first time in 25 years, I will not start the day with Bob Edwards on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." Like thousands of other fans, I am not happy about the change.

NPR is among the major blessings in life. While I am rarely home from work in time to hear the late afternoon-early evening "All Things Considered," it is welcome whenever I'm driving somewhere on the road covering a political story. I love Scott Simon's "Weekend Edition," especially his long takeouts on stories he's reported himself and the laughter he bestows on his entertaining, often oddball guests.

But Bob Edwards has become as much a part of my life as the morning cup of coffee, and for many of the same reasons. He gets you awake and going, without assaulting your senses. You can sip his information at the same calm pace that you take in those first few swallows of caffeine. And his work goes down just as smoothly.

I have talked with Bob Edwards a few times on the air, but we are not personal friends. My purpose is not to gripe about the decision to relieve him of his duties, though it seems mind-boggling after he has built the audience into the top rating on the NPR schedule. All I want to do is salute a man who is the epitome of professionalism in a medium on which I rely.

If you have never heard Edwards, it is a little hard to explain why so many of us have become devotees. He is a minimalist. He works hard to be unobtrusive. In a business where constant yakking is the norm and most hosts feel a need to dominate the dialogue, Edwards is different.

I could make a case that he is the most skilled questioner in the business, but there are other worthy candidates. What no one could dispute is that he is the most succinct. He is at the opposite extreme from Chris Matthews and others of his ilk, who challenge their interview subjects to break into the host's monologue or to finish a thought without being interrupted. Those guys always seem to be leaning into the microphone, ready to pounce. The Edwards I have visualized is leaning back, relaxed.

The other morning, on one of his final programs, Edwards was interviewing Rep. Jim Turner of Texas. In three short introductory sentences, he explained that Turner had been investigating homeland defense and had some proposals he would introduce later in the day.

Edwards' first question was: "Is the Department of Homeland Security broken? Is that why you're introducing your plan?"

When I later read the transcript, I saw that Turner's uninterrupted answer ran to 119 words. Edwards had a 29-word follow-up, citing certain steps the Bush administration had already taken. "Why would your plan be an improvement?" he asked.

Turner's answer ran 216 words, ample time for him to outline his ideas comprehensively. Edwards immediately picked up on the suggestion that improved security would require not just better intelligence and policing of borders, but what Turner had called "a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, to create a middle class in the region."

Always practical, Edwards asked, "What are you talking about, developing businesses?"

That seven-word query provoked yet another meaty and lengthy response from Turner, followed by this from Edwards: "What would the Marshall Plan for the Muslim world cost?"

Turner answered with specifics -- exactly the kind of information taxpayers rarely get -- and then Edwards asked his final question: "Would it be across the Arab world? Are you talking Algeria, Syria, Iran? Is everyone included? Libya?"

By asking the right questions, and asking them with remarkable economy, Edwards gave his guest time to spell out all the essentials -- who, what, when, where and why -- of a fairly complex program. From the introduction to the final, "Congressman, thank you very much," Edwards had spent only 77 words drawing out the essential facts with five questions.

That is professionalism, ladies and gentlemen. Combine it with good manners, an even disposition and an occasional bit of offbeat good humor in this morning companion, plus the willingness to awake before dawn for 25 years to bring us the world with our coffee -- well, you can see why we owe Bob Edwards a lot.

And why I dread starting this Monday without him.

David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.