CNN founder Ted Turner opened his mouth this week at the National Press Club, and promptly demonstrated why America needs Fox News Channel now more than ever.
Three years after the invasion of Iraq, Turner is still pouting about public displays of patriotism on American airwaves: "I mean, I just really wonder during the, during the last war, you know, what business did it have in the news sets to have the American flag flying in the background. Uh, I mean, it was like the news media covered the Iraq war, at least at the beginning of it, almost as like it was a football game with us versus them."
Funny, I can't recall Turner getting his undergarments in a bunch when CNN chose Saddam Hussein's side and former CNN executive Eason Jordan admitted the global news network had withheld reporting on Baathist atrocities in exchange for inside access and protection of its Baghdad staff. Recall Jordan's confession published in The New York Times after America toppled Saddam's regime in April 2003:
"I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed. One Foreign Ministry officer told me of a colleague who, finding out his brother had been executed by the regime, was forced, as a test of loyalty, to write a letter of congratulations on the act to Saddam Hussein. An aide to Uday once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliers and told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be paid for upsetting his boss. Again, we could not broadcast anything these men said to us."
It's fine and dandy for CNN to wave Saddam's flag and carry his blood-stained water. But when Fox News sticks a two-postage-stamp-sized American flag on its screen? Only then will Ted Turner declare that journalism and reportorial objectivity have gone to hell.
But Turner's disdain for putting American citizenship above "citizen-of-the-world" preening isn't peculiar. It's the prevailing attitude in our newsrooms. Remember after the September 11 attacks when Stacey Woelfel, news director at KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., directed his staff to "leave the ribbons at home" in order to show viewers "that in no way are we influenced by the government in informing the public"? Or how about when ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider told The Washington Post: "Especially in a time of national crisis, the most patriotic thing journalists can do is to remain as objective as possible. . . . [W]e cannot signal how we feel about a cause, even a justified and just cause, through some sort of outward symbol."