The Unbearable Lightness of Network News
by L. Brent Bozell III
June 5, 1997
The wine-and-brie set in the liberal media (predictably) are
blustering against CBS for plucking Susan Molinari out of Congress to anchor
its Saturday morning news show. But a look at the program CBS is considering
as a model -- NBC's Saturday Today show -- demonstrates how unnecessary is
NBC doesn't bother co-hosts with news reading. They play a
different role, making transitions from news to weather to commercials, and
hosting the interview segments. How political is the Saturday morning show?
Let's focus on Today's interview segments on May 17, which traveled very
quickly from hard news to soft:
1. Kelly Flinn's struggle not to be discharged for lying to
the Air Force.
2. A coast-to-coast manhunt for a suspected gay serial
3. A nationwide walk-a-thon for the Cystic Fibrosis
4. A Prevention magazine survey showing about 90 million
people report having pain in the last two weeks.
5. National Emergency Medical Services Week.
6. A marriage therapist on "Marriage: Myth or
7. Cooking with Wayne Harley Brachman.
8. How to slim down for summer.
9. Prom season fashions.
10. A 13-year-old pianist.
(Reviewing that list, a better question arises: why would
Molinari want this job?)
Which one of these segments would Molinari ruin with a
Republican spin, whatever that is these days? Take the first item. To give the
conservative read on Flinn would require an attack on Senate Majority Leader
Trent Lott. To defend Lott is to betray conservative principles. The same
scenario plays out with a host of other current issues, from the budget, to
chemical weapons, to MFN for China. Just what agenda do liberals fear Molinari
Let's move on to the second item: What do liberals fear,
that Molinari would champion the case of the gay serial killer? As to the rest
of the show, it's so light it's surprising the television doesn't levitate.
On Saturday, May 31, the Today show had a wealth of
political stories to run from the nation's top news outlets. Washington Times
reporter Jerry Seper found the Clinton Commerce Department, accused of using
foreign trade mission to build its donor lists, "kept a list of
confidential donors to the Democratic National Committee, despite earlier
denials that the documents existed." That's more stonewalling uncovered
by The the ongoing lawsuit against the Commerce Department by Judicial Watch.
The Times also printed an Associated Press report that Peter
Knight, a lobbyist who ran the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign, "arranged
numerous private meetings and dinners with a top Energy Department official
for clients who won millions of dollars in government contracts, documents
show...On more than one occasion, Mr. Knight's clients made large donations to
the Democratic Party or to Mr. Clinton around the time the department made
decisions favorable to them." Did Today cover these developments? No,
although Bob Kur's news updates did twice include the massive mobilization of
police forces to protect Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor from a
delivery of tennis shoes.
Today's May 31 interview segments were somewhat weightier,
with co-host Jack Ford in Denver for three interviews on the Oklahoma City
bombing trial. But the other topics were, in order: the National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children; TV actress Kim Coles promoting her book on
dating and her off-Broadway show; an environmentalist author celebrating the
reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park; the Intel science and
engineering fair; a "Focus on Friends" segment on children's
friends; Road and Track magazine promoting a classic auto show/fashion show;
bathing suit fashions; a Leanza Cornett report on two new romantic comedies;
and cooking with Bill Wavrin.
Don't get me wrong here. It's not that the network morning
shows aren't living up to the standards of the evening shows -- they're just
as bad, if not worse. In April, the Big Three evening "newscasts"
aired only 13 full reports and 6 anchor briefs combined on the
fundraising scandals. NBC News Lite filed only one report and one anchor brief
-- for the entire month!
One reason the networks might have ignored these new scoops
is continuity: how can you explain a development in a complex story like the
Judicial Watch lawsuit against the Commerce Department if you've ignored the
story from the beginning, never attempting to build it from the ground up? The
networks have made no attempt to take three minutes and explain the complex
story lines. While these investigations focus for years on possible criminal
activity in the White House, the networks glibly fill their airwaves with O.J.,
JonBenet, Ennis Cosby, and the scandal of fat-free potato chips.
So let's hope CBS is sending the right signal with the
hiring of Susan Molinari. Heck, I'll take anyone who understands there's some
pretty serious stuff still going on in Washington. It's called news.
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