Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Say Goodnight, Dan

I didn't watch the Emmy Awards Sunday night. Perhaps I'm a bit cranky in my old age, but I find no compelling reason to watch a bunch of self-absorbed media and show business types congratulate each other for their sterling accomplishments in the television industry. Fact is, much of today's programming is pure tripe, even the HBO series that critics typically fawn over.
Apparently, one of the "high points" of Sunday night's broadcast was a salute to the retiring generation of TV anchors. Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw took the stage for that one, and we can assume that the late Peter Jennings was there in spirit. A friend who tuned in said Brokaw seemed slightly bored and (perhaps) a little embarassed by the adulation; Rather, by comparison, seemed to positively revel in the limelight. One year after Rathergate--and being forced from the CBS anchor chair--Gunga Dan seemed grateful for any kudos, even from a bunch of Hollywood twits.

A day after his benedictions at the Emmys, Rather was back in New York, speaking before an audience at Fordham University Law School. Rather was accompanied by Sheila Nevins, President of HBO's documentary unit. Both Rather and Nevins received "lifetime achievement" awards at the news and documentary Emmy Awards ceremony, held in Manhattan last night.

Choking back (crocodile) tears during his Fordham speech, Rather decried a "new journalism order," and the fear the permeates newsrooms. Invoking a Nixonian tone, Rather hinted that politicians have become adept at pressuring the congolmerates which run broadcast news organizations, which (in turn) affects the quality of coverage. He also criticized broadcast news for their "dumbed down, tarted up" coverage of news.

Oh, phul-eeze. One year after getting caught in a journalistic lie, Gunga Dan is still in denial. If politicians were so adept at manipulating news organizations, then his "expose" of George W. Bush's National Guard service would have never seen the light of day. As it was, the report was aired by CBS less than one month before a presidential election, amid considerable publicty and hype. So much of the lobbying efforts of those evil Republicans.

And, lest we forget, the exposure of CBS's lies didn't come from the White House, the corridors of Viacom (which owns CBS), or the Columbia Journalism Review. Instead, Rather's package of distortions, lies and half-truths was exposed by bloggers, ordinary citizens who refuse to accept Dan's reporting without question or scrutiny. You'll note that the pajamas media (to use Jon Klein's term) were not mentioned by Rather at Fordham. Admitting that he was wrong (and the bloggers were right) is simply more than he can admit.

Finally, there is a certain irony in Rather and Nevins being honored for their contributions to documentaries. Actually, few people have done more (other than say, Michael Moore) to destroy the documentary art form. Rather's "report" gave broadcast journalism a black eye from which it may never recover. At HBO, Nevins has presided over documentary series that are designed to titilate, and little else. In recent years, Ms. Nevins has offered profiles of strippers (G-String Divas) and a Nevada brothel. Ed Murrow must be spinning in his grave.

Fifty years ago, comedian Fred Allen spied a bowl of fruit on the top of an early TV, and remarked that it was "the best thing he'd seen on television." A half-century later, Dan Rather could dramatically improve the quality of TV by simply signing off for good, and leaving documentary production to more skilled--and honest--practitioners.

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