||Rocky Mountain Media Watch Texts & Press Releases|
by Jason Salzman
|If you think no one in America opposes the Afghan war, its not because youve been living in a cave. Youve just been watching too much television news.
The wars opponents have been largely absent from TV news since the bombing began. For the most part, only viewer-friendly Phil Donahue and the occasional anti-war movie star have broken through.
In their own defense, news executives told the New York Times that wars opponents are on the margin of mainstream public opinion and are not credible.
Since when has lack of credibility stopped television news? TV reporters make a living by chasing the most freakish events, like the attack of the giant tumbleweeds or meat loaf week in Texas. Fluffalong with mayhemare the mainstays of TV news shows.
Television news loves a good spectacle. But even the most far-out opponents of the war dont make the cut? Theres got to be another explanation for the absence of war opponents on the tube.
Here it is: News executives dont have the guts to put them on the air. They are fearful that anti-war sentiments might make viewers change the channel.
Of course, the opponents of the Afghan war are not limited to anti-war freaks and celebrities. As Phil Donahue has noted, there are plenty of credible people willing to speak out, but unfortunately theres little enthusiasm at TV stations to hear from them.
In fact, about a third of Americansparticularly womentell pollsters that they would oppose the war if it results in large numbers of civilian deaths. While this thread of public opinion may seem inconsequential compared to the overall support for military action in Afghanistan, it is nonetheless significant and reflects an underlying uncertainty among citizens. Journalist should explore these views.
The near absence of criticism on TV of the war is bad enough, but when you add it to the sudden disappearance of televised statements by Taliban spokesmen and Osama bin Laden, the TV landscape becomes eerie. (After a meeting between the Bush Administration and TV news executives, videotapes from the worlds most wanted criminal suddenly all but disappeared from the airwaves.)
If a tirade by Osama bin Laden does not meet the mayhem standards of TV news, then surely Rep. Gary Condit, wherever he went, would love to know why.
The Administrations argument that Bin Laden could have been using his videos to send secret messages to terrorists around the world is simply laughable. Any person intent on seeing the bin Laden tapes could find satellite access to them.
News executives removed bin Laden from TV for the same reason that theyve ignored American voices of dissent. They are more concerned about the bottom line than about journalism.
Heres the scenario that flashes in their minds: A brave network executive broadcasts a new bin Laden videotape. Uproar ensues, as members of Congress and pundits denounce the decision air the tape. The cable chat shows, which will cover just about any angle on the war except opposition to it, whip up a furor over story.
The other networks defend their decisions not to air the tape in patriotic and journalistic pronouncements. The network that aired the tape is branded as "unpatriotic" and, in fact, loses viewers. And loses money.
It could happen, and news executives know it. So, rather than take any risks for the sake of informing the public or practicing real journalism, they take the low road and avoid broadcasting bin Laden or serious opposition to the war.
The sad irony is this: Even network executives concerned only about ratings could easily justify taking the journalistic high road and airing bin Laden and Taliban statementsand thoughtful anti-war sentiments.
Americans might well appreciate being given the opportunity to consider for themselves what bin Laden and serious opponents of the Afghan war have to say.
Jason Salzman, author of Making the News: A Guide for Nonprofits and Activists, is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch, a nonprofit organization that challenges the news media to meet the highest standards of professional journalism.