Sometimes I wonder: Is Bryant Gumbel Still an Ass?
Remember when Bryant Gumbel was on television? And an ass? Is he still either or both of those things?
I'm sure a quick google would provide the answer, but it's easier and more fun to speculate. I'm going to go with. . . yeah, still an ass. I'm not sure recovery from his level of assitude is even possible.
We live in a privileged time. In 2006, I can simply gorge on reality shows like American Idol and The Apprentice when I feel the Faustian urge for overstimualtion, particularly of the areas of my brain dedicated to hating others. In 1997, however, finding objects of loathing on television was still somewhat hit or miss. And then, in October of that year, John Denver died, and in my grief I did something I had never done before: I got up in the morning and turned on the Today show.
Please understand that I was not seeking a hatee that day. (But don't the best ones tend to find you?) I tuned in because I had heard that some guy named Gumbel ("Isn't he a sportscaster?" I thought) would be interviewing Annie Denver, John's ex-wife and subject of the lovely "Annie's Song."
Appallingly, it wasn't so much an interview as a confrontation. I never saw such a bully in my life. Annie Denver was on remote camera, not in the studio, which is probably the only reason Gumbel is still out there somewhere assing up the world, because by the time it was over her hatred of him was even more of an elephant in the room than his roaring ego, and I have no doubt she could've taken him. In fact, the positive flip side of the lip-curling disgust I developed for Gumbel is the awed respect Annie inspired in me. Beneath the cocoon of dignity she had spun around her you could see she was shattered; upon Gumbel's first question, "How are you doing?" her lips quivered and her eyes welled as she answered with raw honesty: "It's been real hard."
I think she had Gumbel's number, though, and knew something of what she was in for. I watched through my own tears as, after that brief tremble of weakness, she snapped her shell back into place and faced her enemy. Then things got weird. Gumbel, enmeshed in some bizarre delusion, took it upon himself to rewrite the particulars of Annie's life as if he knew more about it than she. And he did it all with a giant smirk on his face. He's interviewing someone who just had to tell her children their father was not only dead but in several pieces, and he's smirking.
Annie Denver 2, Bryant Gumbel 0
Here are the two most egregious acts of assness in the interview:
1) Gumbel--who clearly believed himself in possession of an adoring public that tuned in to hear his hot gas instead of, oh, the interviewee?--declared with absolute conviction that Annie Denver and John Denver had remained "the best of friends" after their divorce. She interrupted (causing a twitch of the smirk) to correct him: "Well, people get divorced for a reason, Bryant. We had our problems, but he was a good man." Good for her, but where the hell does he get off twisting her tragedy into his narrative in the first place? "They were the best of friends" brings more drama, I guess, and he obviously didn't expect her to have the will to confront his fictionalizing. Ugh.
2) Even more laughable, Gumbel, smirk turned up to eleven, played "Annie's Song" and told her that of course it was her favorite John Denver song. Told her it was her favorite song. She, cementing her position in my hall of fame, didn't let THAT go either, but said firmly, "NO, it's actually NOT," and told him which of her own ex-husband's songs she herself did, in fact, like the best, while he smirked some more and acted all "OK, sure," like he was going to be a nice guy and let it go even though he knew he was totally right. So patronizing. So ass.
When he finally stopped yapping at her my sigh of relief echoed hers. Wherever she is now, I hope she's happy, because wow do I admire her for sticking up for herself against that insufferable know-it-all, especially considering she was doing it with a busted heart. It would've been so easy to just play along and let the baby have his way. As for him. . . actually, I don't give a damn about him.
[below, "Call me Assmael."]