The Ruminator: Newspeople uneasy in the spotlight

Oct 22, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The targeting of the news media with anthrax-laced letters makes tremendous sense … to the bioterrorists. By having Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw attached to victims, it automatically becomes a bigger story than if they worked for Dan Jones or Tom Smith. It’s probably why these thugs sent their messages of hate to the Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle rather than the junior senator from New Mexico.
Obviously, the people who bring us the news are very uncomfortable becoming the news. The trading places between being the reporter and being the reported has made many people in the newsroom lose focus. Aren’t these the same people who push full disclosure when covering the news? Didn’t Tom Brokaw’s program broadcast the name of the woman William Kennedy Smith was accused of raping in the early ’90s? But with the roles reversed, NBC never mentioned the name of Tom’s assistant who got infected. And Rather the Relentless? Would he be as reluctant to ask for names and background when he covered the Nixon White House if they tried to shield identities? As those of you who have previously read my meanderings know, I am an unabashed supporter of the newspeople of our nation and have been very complimentary of their efforts since Sept. 11, but I must say I find it a bit hypocritical when some of our toughest news folk don’t treat themselves as they’ve treated others.
Oh my. Let me take a sip of my scotch before I say this. It’s aimed at the cable news channels. There has been so much reported that is wrong, you wonder if the cable news channels are sometimes abandoning the news biz for the rumor biz. And by doing so, aren’t they really helping the bio-terrorists, who, after all, want everybody to be scared stiff? The terrorist’s job is to cause fear and hysteria; by reporting everything and investigating not very much, the cable guys are playing right into their hands.
And as with the giant red graphics copied from Fox, I hope as time goes by that CNN and MSNBC might dial it down a bit. And what’s with CNN labeling everything as a CNN exclusive, even if it’s tape provided by FEMA or Al-Jazeera? Not only is it stupid, it reeks of desperation. Also, submitting questions to bin Laden comes close to treason. Sure, the press is supposed to question our government, but come on CNN, remember most of you are Americans too.
We’ve all heard the notion that the first casualty of war is the truth. In the rush to get things on first, many people are now falling victim to putting anything on if it sounds good. Unfortunately, if you watch the cable networks all day you’d think the world is coming to an end. But the last time I looked, Safeco Field in Seattle was packed to the rafters with Seattle fans watching their beloved Mariners taking it on the chin from the New York Yankees. Each Sunday, NFL Games are not only sold out, but I see grown men painted in red, white and blue paint screaming at the top of their lungs at other giant men in rather silly looking outfits and with helmets on. I don’t think they’re worried about anthrax, do you? And has anybody noticed that even though most of the movies out are not getting rave reviews, the box-office totals every weekend are better that they were last year before the market crashed and before the National Enquirer and the New York Post and Tom Brokaw were kindred in arms?
Talking about normal, how about those traffic jams? And perish the thought: When you look at the all-news cable ratings, they too are getting back to normal. Meanwhile, the news programs on the broadcast networks, whether they be morning, evening or prime-time, seem to be holding most of their gains, even though they have been reporting other stuff.
So the next time you see a reporter or an anchor on the such-and-such all-news cable network look straight into the camera and exclaim breathlessly, “We have an unconfirmed report that …,” maybe it’s time to switch to “Oprah.”