Morley and Osborn speak out about the U.S Media
Two Veteran Journalists Critical Of Today's Media Coverage
Objectivity Seen As False Ideal That Hampers Reporters' Work
by Kate Moran
STONINGTON, Connecticut — What is the state of journalism in this country when the national press, historically disparaged as the “liberal media,” gets pilloried by both the right and the left for its flabby coverage of politics and the war in Iraq?
Morley Safer and Osborn Elliott, two doyens of the news business, met at the community center Sunday night for a conversation in which they questioned why reporters cling to a false ideal of objectivity that prevents them from being critical and skeptical purveyors of the news.
In a talk sponsored by the Stonington Free Library, the two colleagues and old friends discussed how to fortify coverage in an era when news outlets are so obsessed with being even-handed that their stories take the shape of point-counterpoint rather than an incisive examination of an issue.
“We've heard a lot of criticism of the election coverage — or non-coverage — by the right and the left alike,” said Elliott, the Stonington Borough resident and former editor of Newsweek.
Elliot criticized the press for not sufficiently challenging the Bush administration's hyperbolic claims about the weapons threat in Iraq. Condoleezza Rice, he said, was able to peddle fear that the “smoking gun” in Iraq could be a “mushroom cloud.”
Safer, an editor and correspondent for “60 Minutes” for three decades, perceived that reporters had soaked up the mood of cautiousness and deference to the White House that he said infected Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Even for those reporters inclined to be critical, Safer said, disproving the Bush administration's claims about weapons of mass destruction was a nearly impossible task. Safer said the president could assert the danger in Iraq but that the press had little means to investigate such a claim outside “the best testimony of weapons inspectors.”
As Safer sees it, news outlets have lost credibility in part because readers do not associate them with a human face, of the kind that Katharine Graham of The Washington Post presented to the world during the Watergate era. Increasingly, he noted, the media are owned and controlled by sprawling corporations, such as Viacom, Disney and General Electric.
The two journalists were particularly harsh in their criticism of Rupert Murdoch, the media baron they faulted for focusing on profit at the expense of good journalism.
Murdoch's preoccupation with the bottom line is symptomatic of what Safer and Elliott said afflicts news corporations as a whole. With the cost of keeping correspondents abroad, they said, coverage of international affairs can get short shrift.
“It's why we're the most ill-informed nation about the rest of the world,” Safer said.
Safer, who covered the Vietnam war for CBS News, said the American press has not done enough to convey the image this country has around the world. He watched the political conventions this summer from Europe and said he cringed at the “awful bravado” he heard in speeches from members of both parties.
He said the candidates seemed little aware that their conventions were broadcast around the world. By taking two minutes to acknowledge the international audience, Safer said, the candidates could have dispelled the air of superiority they emitted with their exhortation, “God bless America,” a statement that he said seemed to be code for “God bless us and screw you.”
“This country looks arrogant, foolish and scary from overseas,” said Safer, who has a weekend home in Chester.
Safer criticized the press for turning election coverage into a “beauty contest” in a year when reporters had vowed to focus on substantive issues. He was frustrated that the press collectively branded John Kerry “boring and lugubrious” when discussion never should have turned on questions of personality.
Yet Safer, who wore his liberal leanings on his sleeve, also faulted Kerry for failing to convey a coherent message and a strong sense of conviction. He said this lack of a compass was partly the legacy of Bill Clinton, the president who succeeded by “co-opting the Republican agenda” and leaving his own party “in disarray” with nothing to stand for.
Both Safer and Elliott praised the correspondents who have toiled in deadly conditions in Iraq to file vivid stories about the war.
Safer said covering Vietnam was a “cakewalk” by comparison. During that war, he felt safe walking through villages known to be hotbeds of the Viet Cong resistance. While reporters had virtually unlimited access in Vietnam, “hitchhiking” across the country on military helicopters, Safer said correspondents in Iraq have to dive on the floor of their cars while drivers navigate war-torn streets.
While Safer had reservations about “embedding” correspondents in military units, a practice new to the Iraq war that he said restricts a reporter's perspective, he conceded that there are few other ways to travel somewhat safely in a country teeming with violence.
To groans from the audience, Safer said he thinks the situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate.
“This war is going to be more of a lingering disease than Vietnam,” he said. “I do not see any resolution.”
This article is from commomdreams.org , Rich