In War, TV Has an Advantage

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

How do you like the war so far?
For a war, it has been very fast; as television it’s been a little slow.
But the newspapers are totally flummoxed. They keep looking for something wrong. They are having trouble with technology. Videophones are jerky; night lenses are smeary; satellite dishes are heavy. Pictures in real time; sounds in real time.
There is a story about the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin appearing at Carnegie Hall as a prodigy at 8 or 10 years of age. In the audience were the violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz and the renowned classical pianist Josef Hofmann. As the small boy with the blond Buster Brown haircut went through some of the most difficult passages in the violin repertory, Heifetz is supposed to have said, “It’s hot in here, isn’t it?”
“Not for pianists,” Hofmann replied.
That’s how I feel about those newspaper people who write about TV’s war coverage. What fun they had that first day! Brokaw and Rather were in place that Wednesday evening, but where was Peter Jennings?
Alex Jones, who runs the Shorenstein media studies center at Harvard, compared TV coverage of the war with salted nuts: “Delicious, but not much nourishment.” Perhaps he meant NBC News reporter Kerry Sanders, lying in the sand outside al-Nasiriya, wearing a government-issue helmet and flak jacket but otherwise his own clothes. He was hugging Mother Earth, the way the sergeant told Lew Ayres to do in All Quiet on the Western Front.
Delicious. Not nourishing.
Newspaper people just don’t get it. I am not sure TV people, busy as they are, appreciate what is going on. Television coverage is getting as smart as GPS-directed bombs. If Kerry Sanders doesn’t give you the “big picture” from the battlefield, you get it from the anchorman. A JPMorgan media analyst told Reuters: “Television has been better informed so far in the conflict. Because of the time zone, by the time newspapers go to print, they are often overtaken by events.”
It’s not only time zones. It’s what is happening to communication, to the world. For better or worse, newspaper nitpickers, having no feel for the adrenalin of live coverage, bad-mouth what they don’t understand.
Papers complained about too much coverage, or too little coverage, the usual bellyaching about the greedy networks not pre-empting their most profitable programs, or special events like the NCAA college basketball finals or the Academy Awards.
That has always been the trouble, and will always be. The glass surface brings news, sports, fun and games, and war. Apparently, it is not enough that they be at different times or even on different channels. Maybe viewers need three TV sets: one for news, one for sports and one for entertainment. In three different rooms-or three separate houses.
Did you notice Brokaw’s glasses? I like Brit Hume’s better.