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Even Paranoids Have Enemies

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A little more then 3 weeks ago, I asked the very talented Ben Silverman, the NBC Co-Chairman, why the Broadcast Networks were not producing and scheduling documentaries about the war, and he indicated that NBC was doing it's part in informing the public as to the events in Iraq,

I am uncomfortable in saying that I believe that he was telling me the truth as he saw it.

How sad.

I came across this piece that I wrote four and a half years ago and I thought that most of it was worth repeating.

Even Paranoids Have Enemies

In November of 2001, the International Council of the Television Academy convened a panel of print and broadcast journalists to discuss the state of news broadcasting in the "post-9/11" era. The moderator, from British Television News, was Richard Grayson, Ph.D. who is a senior correspondent. At the conclusion of the panel there was time for a few questions and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask the one uppermost in my mind, "With the American network broadcast media and/or cable news networks controlled by Viacom/CBS/UPN, AOL/TimeWarner/the WB/CNN/TBS/TNT, Newscorp/the FOX Network/FOX News Channel, the Walt Disney Company/ABC, and General Electric/NBC/MSNBC/CNBC, was it possible for any of these companies who arrive regularly in Washington (either for regulatory relief or for business) to possibly be critical of the forthcoming administration's war in Afghanistan?". Dr. Grayson replied, "That's a very interesting question Norman, can we have the next question from someone else?" He of course was joking and each of the panelists did the expected, "No one has ever questioned our journalistic integrity", but of course I questioned it at that time and I question it today.

Almost a year and a half later, BBC director-General Greg Dyke said US broadcasters had undermined their credibility by supporting the war (in Iraq). He singled out FOX News Channel's "gung-ho patriotism". He went on to say, "Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war". It's also interesting to note that as best as I could determine, none of the American cable news outlets would comment on Dyke's statements. After all, Dyke does in fact run the admired and even venerated British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). One would think that his comments could and should have been reported on, but unfortunately, they were not.

Meanwhile, closer to home, NBC's Ashleigh Banfield, in a speech at Kansas State University, said that cable news operators had wrapped themselves in the flag. "It was a grand and glorious picture that had a lot of people watching and a lot of advertisers excited about cable news", said Banfield in her speech. These comments were reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal, "But it wasn't journalism because I'm not sure Americans are hesitant to do this again, to fight another war, because it looked to them like a courageous and terrific endeavor." "There were horrors that were completely left out of this war", she said.

It's hard for a "paranoid media observer" like myself not to get whipped up into a frenzy when Banfield is admonished by NBC when a spokeswoman, Allison Gollust, said, "We are deeply disappointed and troubled by [Ms. Banfield's] remarks and will review her comments with her". Further statements emanating from NBC indicated that Banfield was "sent to her room without her supper".

Is it unfair to think that NBC News, which is controlled by NBC, who is in turn controlled by the General Electric Company (GE), criticized Banfield because she was critical of the Administration? Several of my more news knowledgeable friends have said to me, "She should have cleared her remarks with NBC before making them". When I suggested that had she extolled the virtues of the war and the brilliance of the cable coverage no one would have even raised an eyebrow at NBC or GE, my friends had to reluctantly agree to such a premise.

Given the opportunity, I would ask NBC, the Los Angeles Times, or Newsweek if their reporters had to "adhere" to the company policies regarding issues which they were covering. The FCC is in the process of increasing the broadcasters right to own television stations covering more than 35% of US homes (That will help diversity of opinions, won't it?). They will also undoubtedly eliminate cross-ownership restrictions that will allow television operators to own newspaper outlets in cities where they already own television stations.

· Does anyone think that General Electric would in any way attempt to influence NBC News?

· Does anyone think that Viacom would do anything to influence CBS News?

· Does anyone think that the Walt Disney Company would do anything to influence ABC News?

· Does anyone think that Newscorp would do anything to influence FOX News?

· Does anyone think that AOL/TimeWarner would do anything to influence CNN?

I would say yes to all of the above, but then again I am indeed paranoid...

Norman Horowitz

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