CBS television has had a bad year. Dan Rather was snookered into broadcasting a story about a fake document and the network was fined $550,000 for baring an intimate part of Janet Jackson during the Super Bowl half time. Rather will survive, though tarnished, and a half million dollars is chicken feed for a corporate giant.
Nothing compares to the rush. No other pursuit could be so exhilarating and meaningful, so loaded with the paradoxical sensation of being entirely alive yet also careening out of control on the edge of death. For those who taste its deliciously deadly nectar, there is usually no turning back.
While I respect the age-old wisdom about steering clear of politics, sex and religion in polite conversation, those seem to be the only things that anyone wants to talk about these days. My line of work has something to do with it, I am sure. So does the fact that this is an election year.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors is trying to find out what people want in a newspaper. It is worried about declines in readership—78 percent of adults read newspapers in 1970, compared to 55 percent last year. So far, it appears people want better service, more local news, reader-friendly presentations (graphics and narrative-style articles), and advertising.
Why, when almost every major denomination on record opposed unilateral U.S. action in Iraq, did most people in the pews support it? In recent months researchers have begun to address that question by examining knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about involvement in Iraq. The findings reveal a deeply disturbing gap between the facts and the public’s beliefs.
The chief international correspondent of CNN, Christiane Amanpour, was asked her opinion of the U.S. media’s coverage of the Iraq war. She responded: “I think the press was muzzled and I think the press self-muzzled. Television . . .
The 24/7 news coverage of the Iraq war is often riveting television, but it is not necessarily good journalism. The journalists embedded with coalition forces can’t do what journalists usually do: make sure they get the story correct before they go with it, and set the facts in a larger context.
If good reporting can be judged by the enemies it makes, then al-Jazeera must be doing something right. The Arabic-language TV channel provoked rebukes from the U.S. government and military officials in the early days of “The War on Iraq” (al-Jazeera’s phrase) when it rebroadcast Iraqi footage of dead and captive U.S. soldiers.
Viewers watching the fourth day of the war on al-Jazeera television would have seen these items:
• When coalition sources were announcing the surrender of Iraq’s 51st Division and its commander, General Khalid al-Hashimi, al-Jazeera’s Basra correspondent was interviewing al-Hashimi, who said his troops were in Basra, defending the city.