ABC hosted a fascinating "Nightline" a few weeks ago on the
subject of patriotism and the press in times of war. They should have called
it "A Night on the Defensive."
Near the end, the panel discussion turned to Fox's Tony Snow,
who mischievously wore a flag pin on his lapel. That decision saddened Ted
Koppel, who said it leaves people with the unfortunate impression that those
who refuse to wear the pin are somehow less patriotic. His boss, ABC News
President David Westin went much further than that. He banned flag pins on
ABC reporters. Why? Because "I think our patriotic duty as journalists in
the United States is to try to be independent and objective and present the
facts to the American people and let them decide all the important things."
What, exactly, is his point? If Mr. Westin is saying that it is
unpatriotic not to be objective, he's managed to slam his own network pretty
thoroughly. There's been precious little objectivity on ABC. Its Iraq
coverage is leaving the unfortunate, but unmissable impression that it
thinks the United States is led by a bumbling, blustering cowboy, with no
sense of history or the Arab world, no real understanding of the demands of
mushy multilateralism, and perhaps even too much lust for the oil beneath
Saddam Hussein's boots.
It's the kind of programming that would be considered
"objective"... in France.
While CBS and NBC at least have the decency to acknowledge the
developing news without raised eyebrows and pouty protests -- that the
American public and even the Democrats are more convinced every day of the
need for war -- ABC is raging against the wind, suggesting that war is
unjustified, and helpfully touting every silly Team Saddam P.R. move as a
bold step for peace and humanity.
Diane Sawyer asks UN chief inspector Hans Blix to step out of
his role and say war is unjustified. White House reporter Terry Moran
encourages Helen Thomas's banshee wailings about a nefarious plot for oil as
"Helen's very interesting line of questioning." Reporter Martha Raddatz
thinks it's important to hear Colin Powell's damning presentation of Iraqi
deceit through the equivocating ears of the French. In Baghdad, reporter Dan
Harris follows up the State of the Union address by immediately guessing
what sleeping Iraqi propaganda ministers would claim if they were awake.
At the center of all this buzzing anti-Bush activity one finds
our friend, the Canadian import Peter Jennings, who looked like one of those
"Mallard Fillmore" comic-strip satires in Baghdad a few weeks ago. The
lowlight was Peter publicizing a throng of Iraqi artists and writers
"walking through the streets of Baghdad to say 'thank you' to Saddam
Hussein. He had just increased their monthly financial support." President
Bush preparing for war on a patron of the arts? He's a warmonger and a
The other night, Jennings ended "World News Tonight" with one of
his classic sneers. UN inspectors would be returning to Baghdad to see if
the Iraqis are improving any on the cooperation front. "We'll see if the
Iraqis do any better," he said, and then this jab: "and if that means
anything to the Bush administration." It seems that it's not the Iraqis who
get an F for cooperation when Jennings is doing the grading.
The ABC anchor's unwillingness to concede Colin Powell proved
America's point about Iraq has led even the usually press-smoochy Bush
spokesman Ari Fleischer to poke fun at this network. When Terry Moran asked
him if Saddam would empty his chemical arsenal if America attacked,
Fleischer quipped, "Does this mean that ABC News is acknowledging that
Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?" With ABC making Hans Blix
look like a right-winger, Peter's Platoon is getting the kind of image that
might (and should) cause more than a few Americans to flip their remote
controls to something that sounds more like TV news instead of the New York
Times editorial page.
Objectivity and patriotism can go hand in hand: having enough
faith in the American people to give them the straight scoop and let them
decide. But ABC is in fact fighting the American people tooth and nail,
working day and night to convince them that they're wrong, wrong, wrong when
they favor American action. Instead of being objective -- applying a
rigorous, skeptical analysis to all sides -- ABC is putting the screws to
American leaders and acting completely credulous toward the Iraqis, not to
mention the French and the Germans. It's a good thing ABC banned the flag
pins. Peter Jennings would look positively goofy.