The Ruminator: The making of a war correspondent

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

While I don’t want to be too flip about TV’s continuing coverage of America on Alert, America Fights Back, America United, America’s New War or The War on Terror, I think it’s time to ruminate on some of what has come up in the past week. We start with the makeover of MSNBC’s Ashleigh Banfield. Done on the way to Pakistan from New Jersey, her hair is now closely cropped and she’s got a new manly wardrobe. Tell me I’m wrong here: Doesn’t she look like Pat, the character Julia Sweeney played when she was on “Saturday Night Live”?
My next favorite is the battle of the videophone reports. That’s the technology employed by CNN, NBC and CBS to take us to the front in northern Afghanistan. Would there be anything wrong with a regular phone report with video from the scene? The videophone reminds me of the claymation on MTV when they have those staged fights. We could have Nic Robertson fighting Liz Palmer with the winner taking on Tom Aspell for the videophone title of the Northern Front.
And then there’s the world of the Washington “formers.” They are everywhere on the tube. Former CIA’ers, former military officials, former FBI agents and former Secretaries of Whatever, all briefing Couric, Gumbel, Rather, Jennings, Brokaw, King, O’Reilly and Sawyer on what will happen and how this will unfold. Excuse me, but aren’t these the same people who couldn’t find bin Laden or much of anything else in the past 10 years?
Then there are the maps. We all hated geography in school, yet over and over again we are subjected to the “stans” of the world and their relation to each other. We really do now know where Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan are, so fewer maps please.
And I loved-really, no sarcasm here-the multi-network telethon on Sept. 21, and all of us salute the people who raised and gave the $150 million to aid the victims of the terror attack. However, would it have hurt Neil Young or Willie Nelson to have bought some new clothes for their appearance? Maybe they could consult with Ashleigh Banfield’s makeover artist. And what was with our having to guess who the performers were? Could the producers have supered the names of the people and performers who were on just in case some of us didn’t recognize the Limp Bizkit guy or might not have been keen enough to spot Alicia Keys? Was that Julio’s kid singing? And that did look like Sheryl Crow at the piano.
Oh god, I’m sounding a bit like Andy Rooney and I hate myself for it. So here comes a U-turn. In my last column I saluted the men and women of TV who brought us the horror of the attack and its aftermath. I said keeping this high level of journalism would be a difficult task and I hoped the networks and the all-news cable outlets were up to it.
So far, I’m glad to report the great work is continuing. From the special editions of Tom, Peter and Dan to the morning shows’ moving and complete coverage to the newsmagazines giving in-depth reports, the networks have showed why we as a nation need them. If all this isn’t enough for you, the three major news cable outlets give you even more information whenever you want it. It’s as if the networks complement the cable coverage and the cable coverage is complemented by the network programs.
We need to keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are to live in a country where the press can work at a time like this at full speed; that we live in a land where the news reporting is keeping us informed, vigilant, sad, enlightened, angry, frustrated and mostly proud, because it is a free press.