Roger Ebert has returned to the movies. I always found him to be wonderfully kind and supportive. This week, he's hosting his Ninth Annual Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois, in Champaign/Urbana, about two hours south of here. The festival opened Wednesday night, and Mark Caro, an entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote that when Ebert entered the movie theater, "the applause started softly near a rear entrance … and rippled outward until all in the crowd were standing on their feet smacking their hands together."
It was Ebert's first public appearance since he was operated on last summer for cancer of the salivary gland and the jaw. He's had a tracheostomy and is awaiting further surgery. So for now, he can't talk.
Notebook: Women And Op-Eds
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First Look: Travel Hassle
He previews tonight's CBS Evening News, with an assist from Correspondent Nancy Cordes.
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We're supposed to ask hard questions.
I've read some of the comments/criticisms of Katie's interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards: Wow! It's good to know people watch her work so closely. We can all benefit from critiques. But my goodness, some of the comments have seemed "over the top." One week she's "too soft." The next week she's "too tough."
Any journalist worth their salt is supposed to ask tough questions and make no apologies for it. It is both the great blessing and burden of a free press. Our viewers and readers expect it and deserve it. John Edwards is seeking the most powerful office in the world at a time of so much uncertainty around the world. Americans deserve to know: is he up for the job? And, God forbid, if there's a turn in his wife's health, could he still focus on the nation's business?
Like or dislike Katie Couric or her questions, they were necessary. Like or dislike John Edwards or Elizabeth Edwards or their answers, hearing and seeing their response was a worthwhile exercise.
And it seems to me, Katie wasn't simply asking questions stacked on a sheet of paper, but asking questions that she once had to ask herself as her husband battled cancer. Since the interview aired I've run into sky cabs, cabbies, housekeepers, and a host of others all talking about "Katie's interview." (Granted these aren't people who 'blog' all day, they actually work outside.) Some thought she was right on, others thought she was way off. "The Edwardses were brave." "The Edwardses are being foolish." Opinions varied to say the least. And who says there is a single right answer?
But thank God, the discussion is taking place. People are talking about a topic that at some point seems to touch every household. So isn't that a good thing? Isn't that what journalists are supposed to do?
Today, Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" spoke for a lot of us. "Katie did an outstanding job with the interview," he said. "She asked the questions we all wanted to hear answered and she asked the questions the Edwardses were anxious to answer. I'm proud of the job she did and I'm proud to have her on our team."
I couldn't agree more.
I'd interviewed Elizabeth two and a half years ago, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had been impressed ( as I've written before) by her strength, and no-nonsense unpretentiousness.
I also felt that I have an inherent understanding of the physical and emotional toll that cancer takes on a family, given that I have lost both my husband and my sister to this disease.
Which led me to wonder: well, what about the answers? The purpose of an interview is not to create memorable questions, but to elicit compelling answers. Did the answers shed any light on the Edwards' decision? Did they offer insight into the character of the man who wants to be President? Did they give others who are facing this kind of crisis some perspective? Did the answers have any value or add to our knowledge? (Well, among other things, Elizabeth Edwards revealed for the first time that the cancer had spread to her hip.)
Herewith, a few of the answers that came out of the Edwards interview. You can read a full transcript right here.
Elizabeth Edwards: You know, you really have two choices here. I mean, either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday or you start dying. That seems to be your only two choices. If I had given up everything that my life was about – first of all, I'd let cancer win before it needed to. You know, maybe eventually it will win. But I'd let it win before I needed to.
Monday marked the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq, and I began the morning preparing for our Special Report, as President Bush addressed the country from the White House. I thought it was striking how all the networks — and newspapers as well — were reporting flatly "Iraq: 4 Years Later," language that reflects a lack of accomplishment there. Americans did not expect the war to last this long, nor did they think it would cost as many lives as it has, our poll showed. As we begin the fifth year of the war, it'll be interesting to see how the war continues to play out on the campaign trail, too.
Allen Pizzey, currently reporting from Iraq, had an interesting perspective about what it's like to be there four years after the war started. He took a ride with the 410th Military Police, based in Camp Victory on the edge of the Baghdad International Airport, and reported on our courageous soldiers who look every day for snipers, and watch for IEDs, and potholes.
In her first interview after being diagnosed with cancer, she told me she was determined to do everything she could to try to beat it. She also said then that she knew there were no guarantees with cancer.
Having lost my husband and sister to cancer, I felt so much empathy for them. Of course, like so many watching, I immediately thought of their children, Cate, who is in her twenties and eight year old Emma Clare and six year old Jack. The fear of not being there for your children, of leaving them motherless is so deep and primal. Cancer treatment has come so far, but clearly not far enough. Patients are often able to live with various forms of the disease as if it were a chronic illness…as Elizabeth mentioned, like diabetes. But cancer can be a wily and unpredictable foe. A friend whose husband had colon cancer the same time mine did often described the omnipresent notion of it getting worse as "the sword of Damacles."
Yesterday, as we did a story on a brain surgeon fighting his own brain tumor, we mentioned that 4,000 people hear the three words "you have cancer" every single day in this country. So many more are fighting it and living with it. Watching the Edwards today made me think about all of them…and all the under-compensated and tireless researchers who have committed their lives to finding new, better treatments and possibly cures. It's a reminder for all of us. Take a moment today to think about those you know who are dealing with cancer. Better yet, call them to tell them you are thinking about them…and will support them in any way you can.
Take it from me, someone who's been there. It means so much.
Set your VCR. Program your TiVo. And, of course, check your local listings.
My week began in the best possible way -- interviewing Jerome Groopman, a doctor at Harvard and frequent medical contributor to The New Yorker who has written a new book called "How Doctors Think" in which he recounts how doctors misdiagnosis 15 to 20% of their cases, because they have personal feelings towards their patients, both good and bad. They often find them personally annoying or they sometimes become frustrated that they can't get better.
Feeling positively toward a patient is not always optimal though. That can make a doctor unwilling to order tests that he or she fears will make a patient uncomfortable. Groopman uses a number of case studies, discusses the mistakes he's made in his 30-year career and offers advice to patients to get the best care and smartest diagnosis from their doctors. I am a huge admirer of articles that Dr. Groopman has written; they're always accessible, well-written and fascinating. I'll never forget one piece he did in The New Yorker about a young woman who was abandoned by her fianc? after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I told him how much I appreciated the piece he told me he wrote the whole thing in one sitting with tears rolling down his cheeks. He is an amazingly humanistic physician.