The Twilight of Nework News

09.30.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | Media Affairs | 3 Comments
I grew up in the 1960s, when The Twilight Zone was the thing; Rod Serling, cigarette in hand, calmly relating the vagaries of worlds gone wrong.

Where’s our reliable narrator today?

The leading nightly news broadcast these days is on NBC. Friday’s report included this item:

The Republican National Committee now has acknowledged sending mass mailings to two states that say liberals want to ban the Bible. Republican Party officials say the mailings in Arkansas and West Virginia are aimed at mobilizing Christian voters for President Bush. Some Christian commentators say liberal support for same-sex marriage could lead to laws that punish sermons denouncing homosexuality as sinful.

That was it. In toto. No “But of course the Constitution makes that impossible.” Or “But Democratic leaders denounced the mailing as the lowest form of demagoguery.”

Instead America’s most watched news program broadcast a report about political dirty tricks that any real newsman would have snickered at or even ridiculed. NBC News restricted its analysis of grotesquely absurd fear-mongering to “some Christian commentators” who warned that “liberal support for same-sex marriages could lead to laws” that would effectively make religion illegal.

Hello? Can you hear the famous theme music? And then the cool, detached voice:

Meet one Thomas Brokaw, anchorman become zombie. His thoughts, transmitted to millions of Americans, have been slowly replaced by the words he reads from a screen, words that repeat the political fantasies of religious zealots. The strangest part of this phenomenon? His audience doesn’t seem to notice the difference in… The Twilight Zone.

I hear the theme music often these days. When the Swift Boat Veterans ran their unsubstantiated smears against John Kerry’s war record, newscasts suddenly became enamored of the notion that “these charges won’t go away” and that Senator Kerry’s campaign “has been distracted” by them. “How often do you beat your wife, Mr. Kerry,” asked Bush’s attack proxies, and the news media howled for an answer.

The Kerry smears remained an issue because news people who know better kept reporting the same unfounded rumors.

Let’s all remember that a newsman’s job is to gather stories, sort through what’s true and what’s not, then give an honest report on what’s true and what’s not. When someone says that sermons will be prosecuted, or when someone nowhere listed in a wounded veteran’s medical records goes on television saying he treated that veteran’s wounds, it is the responsibility of that news professional either not to report the falsehoods or to report them in order to discredit them.

But, you might ask, what about reporting what has been said? Isn’t that largely what the news is? Telling us what people say, without necessarily trying to figure out what’s true?

Actually, there is a specific, technical term for that type of reporting. It’s called “gossip.”

But lately, gossip has been the least of our troubles. Turns out, CBS’s story about President Bush’s failure to fulfill his obligations in the National Guard bumped another story previously scheduled for that episode of 60 Minutes: one about how the President relied on counterfeit documents for the “16 words” in the 2003 State of the Union that asserted Iraq was seeking materials for nuclear weapons.

What happened to that story? CBS News, whose corporate poobah, Sumner Redstone, is a vocal Bush supporter, decided that the story was “inappropriate” before the election — no doubt because it would have cast aspersions on the president’s honesty, decision making, and capacity to make rational decisions about matters of life and death.

CBS News, an institution I had the highest respect for until about ten days ago, has announced that evaluating what’s true and what’s not about a president up for reelection is NOT part of their mission.

Cue Mr. Serling: “Consider this. A news organization known as the very embodiment of the ‘liberal press’ shifts gears and panders to a right-wing extremist regime. Where could this transformation occur? Only in…”

America today.  

Excellent piece, another truly hilarious parody of the uptight, unthinking, dogmatic liberal. I look forward to you extending your satirical talents to mocking those on the right by crafting a piece in the voice of the typical dittohead.
09.30.2004 | norman normal
your readers might be interested in Sumner Redstone's campaign contributions - with the exception of Orrin Hatch all to Democrats (including $1000 to Kerry):
09.30.2004 | Chester Brinkley
To "Mr. Normal": I wouldn't dream of trying to steal your act! So no, I won't attempt it.

To Mr. Brinkley: My source on Mr. Redstone's presidential preference is his repeated statements of support, which he attributes to his business interests.

10.1.2004 | David L Steinhardt

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