The Journalism Exchange -- CNN Loses

by Lucy Blomfield

 “Can good television journalism exist on American networks expected to bring in 40 - 60% profit? Why is quality reporting often the 'most profitable?'”

CNN's Disaster

March 6, 2002. In Live Today, CNN began with: "In Operation Anaconda, Allied Forces and Afghan Troops [are] battling Al Quaeda and Taliban Forces." Reporting from Bagram air base in Afghanistan, was Martin Savidge, "the only television reporter who was able to travel to the front lines with the troops." Part of his report early in the day: "They [U.S. allied forces] move on from cave to cave. After that, the operation we were following turns south, heading to the village of Shir Kantil. This was thought to be a headquarters for both Taliban and Al Qaeda forces. No sooner had the U.S. and coalition troops set up on the ridge overlooking the village - suddenly they found themselves in the middle of one big firefight. It began with small automatic weapon fire, AK-47's, then moved to machine gun, heavy machine gun fire, and then the mortars, but the coalition forces weren't daunted, and they weren't driven away from their post. Instead, they returned a similar amount of fire. Also, they called in air support, and that proved to be the trump card. Wave after wave of fighter bombers and B-52 bombers dropped almost an endless supply of heavy bombs and ammunitions on the village. It quickly brought an end to the firefight." 1

Informative, Clear Reporting

On the evening report of the same day, however, a small disaster. Martin Savidge again, but this time reporting with his cameraman, Scottie McWinnie. What was startling about their dialogue was not the report itself, but rather the laughing and smirking of Scottie McWinnie as he told about their experiences. The inappropriateness of his demeanor, his laughter juxtaposed with a situation involving such slaughter, sacrifice and peril, was incredible. (I also heard a CNN anchor remark how good it had been that so many Al Qaeda had been "taken out". Aren't the Al Qaeda human beings too - though a despicable enemy?) Savidge tried a little damage control after McWinnie's juvenile performance, "And even though we make light of the situation now...", but the damage had been done. An example of bad TV journalism - and it cannot be found on CNN's website.

The News Hour's Triumph

February 13, 2002. Public Television's The NewsHour. Jim Lehrer's interview with Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. To follow are a few of Jim Lehrer's questions on several topics and Mr. Musharraf's answers. The interview was taped before Daniel Pearl's death.

RE: DANIEL PEARL

Jim Lehrer: "...in other words the people who took Mr. Pearl were trying to demonstrate that the government - your government does not control all of Pakistan. What do you think about that theory?"

President Musharraf: "Well, we certainly control all of Pakistan. Whoever had perpetrated this act is in a very small minority. But they do create this nuisance. But there is no doubt that we are controlling the whole of Pakistan. This is a very ridiculous statement that is being made."

JL: "It's a nuisance rather than a serious challenge to you and your government, is that what you are saying?"

PM: "Well, it's, I mean the incident is definitely serious and the innocent reporter is involved and his life is in jeopardy. But I know that the extremists who get involved in such acts are in a minority. And we have initiated actions to curb them."

RE: CONFLICT WITH INDIA

JL: "What kind of armament do you need and why do you need it?" The President of Pakistan gives his response. JL: "You mean you are talking about the threat from India?"

PM: "Yes."

JL: "And you need what kind of planes, you need fighters or what, bombers, what kind of planes do you need?

PM: "Well, I think it's, instead of getting involved in the exact specifics there are a lot of requirements. Yes. We definitely do require high-tech aircraft."

RE: A DIALOGUE WITH INDIA

JL: "Why is the dialogue not going on?"

PM: "It's not going on because of the rigidity and obstinacy of India."

JL: "It's all India's fault." PM: "Well, I think so."

THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM

JL: "There was much speculation after September 11, Mr. President, that your siding with the United States against the Taliban in Afghanistan was going to cause you serious political problems in your own country. What has been the result?"

The discussion continues.

JL: "As you probably know since you've been here in the United States, that there is mounting discussion about the possibility of military action against Iraq. Would you support that if there was evidence that they were building weapons of mass destruction and were unwilling to let inspectors in, you know what the argument is?”

To find out President Musharraf’s answer and to read this interview in its entirety, access: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/asia/jan-june02/musharraf_2-13.html.

It was, in my opinion, a masterful interview - clarifying often what President Musharraf was saying, possibly even effecting world events. Great journalism by a distinguished journalist and anchor.

The Journalism Exchange

What is good journalism? What is bad journalism? Can good television journalism exist on American networks expected to bring in 40 - 60% profit? 2 Why is quality reporting often the “most profitable?” 3 Who are the best anchors, reporters, foreign correspondents, op ed writers? The best local news programs, news websites, newspapers, news magazines? Who are your favorite journalists and why? As the title of this series indicates, we would welcome examples of great journalism. Please e-mail your favorites (website file locations are helpful) to: corps2@aol.com

1. http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0203/06/lt.06.html

2. The News About The News - American Journalism In Peril, by Leonard Downie, Jr., and Robert G. Kaiser, Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

3. Ibid.

Return to Table of Contents