Friday, June 13, 2003

All That Fit News

I'm a creature of habits (an understatement, my children will tell you). One such habit is my morning routine that begins with two acts confirming the day has begun: reaching out to turn on my computer and picking up the remote to flick on the news. For habit-impaired people like me, it's hard to break any part of the routine, but after many years of the Networks and CNN, I've switched to the BBC. In fact, aside from regularly

tuning in to Jim Lehrer and Bill Moyers on PBS, I find myself watching significantly less television news than ever before.

Another habit, begun it would seem before I was born, is The New York Times. The Times has gotten bigger and more featured than it needs to be, but it's still the best. Needless to say, as a lifelong reader I too was unhappy to learn of the lapses that ultimately resulted in the ousting of its two top editors. Unhappy, but not turned off. Perhaps it's because, despite the high regard in which I hold the Ochs family trust, I don't think even the Times is superhuman. Perfect is just not in the natural order and we've seen ample examples of lapses in every segment of life. To be sure, excellence and quality of reporting are real issues for contemporary journalism at the Times and elsewhere, but what bothers me even more these days is content.

Some of my friends don't like the BBC because they think it is slanted against Israel. That's probably more a case of the myopia we Jews suffer when we see our survival at risk than of reality, but that's another subject. I find the BBC pretty evenhanded. But what really attracts me is that BBC presents real news seriously. Wonder of wonders there is a big world out there and, despite half hour broadcasts, they are able to cover more than one story at a time. Their cameras routinely go to "exotic" Continents like Africa and Asia where, if you can believe it, important things are going on each and every day. You may not hear about it too often, but thousands are dying in civil conflicts, from epidemic disease and, in more places than any of us would like to think about, from hunger. Like our own media, BBC focused on Iraq during the war and even expanded its coverage to an hour, but even then that larger world didn't disappear.

The other morning, thinking my abandonment of CNN perhaps too precipitous, I switched over when the BBC World News ended at 7:30. Lacey Peterson is what I heard and it was only the middle of an extensive report. Now don't get me wrong, I feel very sorry for her and a grieving family, but in the scheme of things is that really major news? On the day Lacey was murdered, I'm reasonably sure other women were as well — that day and the ones before and after. We'll never know their names despite deaths that are no less tragic, no less important to their near and dear. Lacey Peterson, yet another made-for-TV and the Tabloids "news" drama. Another (thank your Frank Rich) Mediathon. No ours is not a problem of shoddy journalism, though that is part of it, but of trivial content. The world is falling apart, millions of innocents have died in Africa in the last few years alone, democracy is being stifled in places like Indonesia and we're talking about Lacey Peterson. Shame on us.

David Brinkley died this week. When he and Chet Huntley held sway at NBC and Cronkite told us "that's the way it is" on CBS, I became a TV news junky. I also felt pretty well informed, pretty well served even though it wasn't 24/7. Today I can watch three hours of Network and CNN news and miss 90% of what's really going on, what is truly important and newsworthy Shoot me, I simply don't trust Wolf Blitzer the way I did Walter Cronkite. Do you?

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