I wonder what television news will be like in the future, the future that began so shockingly on Sept. 11, 2001.
I wonder whether it will become a more serious thing. Will those who watch it realize that events that happen in faraway places can affect them in such nearby places as their homes and offices and hearts? Will they realize, in other words, that what is foreign can turn domestic in a matter of moments?
Will the people who watch television news realize that events that seem dull at the time can have startling implications in the future? Will they be willing to pay closer attention to those events, to think about them when the newscast is over, to read about them in detail in newspapers and magazines? Will they learn to make a distinction between what is topical and what is relevant, and will they come to prefer the latter, even if the relevance is sometimes subtle or stubborn about making itself known? Will they work at their news, at least more than they did before Sept. 11?
Will they realize, at long last, that the more television news entertains them, the less it informs them, and the less it informs them, the more it leaves them deceived and unprepared.
And I wonder whether, if all of this happens, that those who produce television news will be different, too. Will they spend less time on the next Gary Condit, the next Robert Blake, the next Marv Albert, the next Darva Conger, the next O.J. Simpson court appearance, the next car chase on a freeway, the next school shooting, the next nanny trial, the next celebrity drug bust, the next celebrity death in a plane crash, the next grotesque multiple birth?
Will they hire reporters who care more about the stories they cover than the amount of time they spend on camera? Reporters who are more passionate about their work than their paychecks; who are insightful and creative enough to point out what is domestic about the foreign, what may be startling about the dull?
I wonder about TV critics, too. Will they stop doubling as gossip columnists, anointing this journalist the next superstar, that one the next scud stud? Or if they have to make celebrities out of reporters, can they at least do it on the basis of journalistic ability, rather than pointing out what color her hair is these days and how chic her eyeglasses are, how deep his voice is and how engagingly different his manner?
Let me put that another way: The real "stars" of the war on terror are George W. Bush and Usama bin Laden, not Ashleigh Banfield and Aaron Brown.
And I wonder whether journalists will resolve this conflict between patriotism and objectivity, perhaps by refusing to see it as a conflict at all. Will they understand that the best way for them to serve their nation, and their viewers, is to get as close to the truth as they can and then report it? It is possible to be a patriot and tell a story about a failed U.S. military mission. But it is not possible to be objective and compare the war on terror to the war in Vietnam at so early a stage of the fighting, or to attend a Defense Department briefing and ask whether the U.S. has any chance whatsoever to win this war against terrorists? The former is sensationalism, the latter defeatism.
And, again, I wonder about the viewers. Will they be a little more broadminded in the future, a little less hotheaded? Will they realize that an anchor can decide not to wear a flag in his lapel and still be an American? Will they realize that an anchor can wear a flag in his lapel and still be a phony?
None of this will probably happen — not all of the above, at least — but the more of it that comes to pass, the more reason we will all have to give thanks.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .
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