Networks' rush to irrelevance

Posted: Oct 11, 2002 12:00 AM
Washington, D.C. -- The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed a lot in America -- some of it for the better. People better appreciate our military and the job they do. High school students still aren't rushing to enlist, but more young Americans want to serve under commander in chief George Bush than under William the Warrior. The attacks also created several hundred million American activists. No one will ever be able to light their shoes on fire in an airplane or joke about blowing up buildings at a breakfast buffet without other passengers and patrons taking action. As I travel the country signing copies of my latest book, "Mission Compromised," I've sensed a real desire among Americans to stay better informed and more alert to the dangers we face. Cable television, talk radio and the Internet have all provided such information. But this week, the so-called mainstream television networks demonstrated why the public is abandoning them in droves -- because they cannot be counted on to provide quality, fair and balanced news -- if they report it at all. Last week, both houses of Congress debated resolutions supporting military force against Iraq. As the solons deliberated, terrorists killed a U.S. Marine and wounded another in Kuwait, while Saddam Hussein manipulated the U.N. to avoid war and weapons inspections. Parliaments, presidents and politicians around the world were opining on how to oust Saddam. And yet, when President George W. Bush made a prime-time address outlining the case against Iraq, network bigwigs decided the issues of war and peace just weren't "must see TV." Instead, NBC aired their "reality" show "Fear Factor," in which contestant A.J. Brunner whined: "It was horrible. I was starting to cry. Their feet felt like little suction cups and they were just all over," as he exposed himself to "attack" by 200,000 bees. His courageous brush with death aired while President Bush addressed the nation about Iraq's rearmament and support for terrorism, and called for America to "speak with one voice." Faced with choosing between the invented "Fear Factor" and the real-life peril that Iraq presents to the United States, NBC deemed honeybees a greater menace than Saddam's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. At ABC, Drew Carey's search for a bride was more important than the president's message to the wives and mothers of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardsmen wondering if or when their loved ones will be sent to war. And CBS decided that a "King of Queens" episode in which Doug and Carrie "start using God as their personal genie" was more important than an unprecedented presidential warning to our adversary's generals about their personal peril if they carry out orders to use weapons of mass destruction. After Sept. 11, many said America had been jolted back to moral responsibility and political seriousness. But this message has yet to penetrate the Big Three television network executives, who act like it's still February 1997, when they ran Bill Clinton's State of the Union address on a split screen with the O.J. Simpson jury verdict. They shouldn't be surprised that viewers are voting with their remotes. In a poll released in August by the Pew Center for the People and the Press, fewer than 50 percent of viewers described news organizations as highly professional. Just 49 percent think the "news media stand up for America." And 59 percent believe the media are politically biased, a 12 point increase since Sept. 11. Defending their decision to blackout the president's Monday night speech, network honchos blamed the White House. "They know how this works," one unnamed "network insider" told The Washington Post. "If it's important, they ask for the time and we usually give it." But other anonymous sources for the Post were more revealing: "It's a (political) pep rally," one whined. And The New York Times' unidentified network informant claimed that the Big Three are victims of the Bush administration's "passive aggressive" approach toward the media. But all this begs the question: Did O.J.'s Dream Team file papers requesting that his verdict trump a State of the Union address? Network executives are like nostalgic Bolsheviks, unable or unwilling to relinquish their globalist fantasies. And many of their anchors and "reporters" are no better. Last month, a "60 Minutes II" correspondent offered this assessment about why terrorists hate the United States: "If we were to really live well, and by that I mean being less greedy, taking better care of our poor and our needy, and stop making impossible demands on our planet's resources, I think we would plunge our enemies into shame. In fact, we'd end up with fewer enemies." And when the Media Research Center analyzed Peter Jennings' "ABC World News Tonight" in September, it found that ABC reporters "were nearly four times more likely to voice doubt about the truthfulness of statements by U.S. officials than Iraqi claims. At the same time, correspondents frequently used language painting America, not Iraq, as the aggressor." As Jennings, Rather and Brokaw edge toward retirement, some are wondering who will replace them -- assuming there will be any network watchers left. At the rate that they're hemorrhaging viewers, the Big Three networks better hope that Saddam doesn't get cable in prison.