On the death of "news" and Fred Friendly

Television news, like the Web, has fallen victim to the great mammon and become its whore. Each was an information medium, with the vision of its creators being lost along with the ability of its users to discern chaff from wheat. In its headlong rush toward instant gratification of the hungry maw of public consumption, news has become pap, with the term "sound bite" having more than one meaning.

Edward R. Murrow and his ilk made us think, "chew" on the events, ruminate on the causes and impacts of the events that shaped our lives. When news divisions became profit centers and research and commentary gave way to happy talk and blind acceptance of sources, news died. What replaced it was "Entertainment Tonight" with a little more emphasis on gore instead of Gore, clinches instead of Clinton and coffee klatsches in lieu of Kofi Annan.

We have become desensitized to violence, much as an allergy sufferer is desensitized to the antagonist by repeated introduction of small doses. The horror of World War II, with its black and white images of broken bodies and burned out buildings, was underscored by the radio imagery of Murrow and his colleagues. They forced us to think about war and all its evils.

The Viet Nam conflict was the first glorification of war. The imagery was delivered in "living color" (NBC's slogan). What an oxymoron. Even that became too much for many of us, who could still detect inhumanity in such a celebration of might. So they took it off the air and gave us short, digestible bursts, including body counts, like scores at a football game. Eventually. they replaced even that with reruns of old comedies, as if the new burlesque of politicians decrying the war even as they celebrated its victories was too difficult for us to understand.

Today, wholesale slaughter, bordering on genocide, barely rates a mention. It is sandwiched in between the latest sniggering over the peccadilloes of the President and warmed over regurgitations of official press releases by a bored local reporter waiting for a network gig. How many of you know or remember the Hutse tribe in Africa, or can identify the war criminals in Bosnia? I'll bet ALL of you know the name of Bill Clinton's latest alleged paramour. Every one of us knows about El Nino, but how many know the fate of children in Ireland, Iraq or Indonesia? What about the slaughter of female children or the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners in China? These stories don't sit well on a full stomach and don't have that "positive glow effect" on the target demographics, you know.

I shall miss Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow, John Chancellor and the medium that they strove to create.

© copyright, 1998, Peter Prunka
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