Thursday, March 08, 2007

A sad day

Nearly 49 years ago, Edward R. Murrow was the keynote speaker at the Radio and Television News Directors Association convention. In his speech, he challenged networks to avoid sensationalizing the news, to pay less attention to advertisers and to defend the noble calling of journalism.
My memory also goes back to the time when the fear of a slight reduction in business did not result in an immediate cutback in bodies in the news and public affairs department, at a time when network profits had just reached an all-time high. We would all agree, I think, that whether on a station or a network, the stapling machine is a poor substitute for a newsroom typewriter.

One of the minor tragedies of television news and information is that the networks will not even defend their vital interests. When my employer, CBS, through a combination of enterprise and good luck, did an interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the President uttered a few ill-chosen, uninformed words on the subject, and the network practically apologized. This produced a rarity. Many newspapers defended the CBS right to produce the program and commended it for initiative. But the other networks remained silent.


I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could. Let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market.

And this brings us to the nub of the question. In one sense it rather revolves around the phrase heard frequently along Madison Avenue: The Corporate Image. I am not precisely sure what this phrase means, but I would imagine that it reflects a desire on the part of the corporations who pay the advertising bills to have the public image, or believe that they are not merely bodies with no souls, panting in pursuit of elusive dollars. They would like us to believe that they can distinguish between the public good and the private or corporate gain.
Tonight, the RTNDA proved those exhortations either fell on deaf ears or have been forgotten. Its members even rubbed Murrow's ghost's nose in his assurance that "the titular heads of the networks (don't) control what appears on their networks." They gave their First Amendment Award to Roger Ailes. Ailes, as the head of both Fox News and Fox Television, is the epitome of what Murrow called television's desire to provide "escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live." The RTNDA seems most interested, however, in the fact that Roger Ailes--whose network has made hay by attacking the profession of journalism and whose boss has admitted that the network "tried" to shape views of the Iraq war and "supported the Bush policy"--has made Fox News "the ratings leader among cable news channels."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on this travesty.

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the repeal of the First Amendment is an implied desire of Faux News Channel,and its anchors and guests make this apparent (and some times literally say so) any time the ACLU is mentioned. How can Ailes get lauded as an advocate of the First? Oh, I suppose the same way a lot of things have been allowed to happen over the last 7 years...

5:27 PM  

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