Live television does not always enable one to make the best — or perfect — decisions all the time.
In many instances we have much time to make editorial decisions, sometimes we have no time (breaking news) and sometimes little time. And, while the "buck stops with me," sometimes I see things for the first time when you do — when it airs. We are a news organization that covers the very dynamic world with correspondents reporting in from the far corners of the globe and not every thing "comes through" Washington, D.C. where I anchor the show. Usually, and with good reason, I trust the judgment of my colleagues and, even with sufficient time, don't always review what will be shown on our air other than to be given a verbal description by my producers. I am also well aware that "good judgment" can vary — good, smart, thinking people can disagree on how to put the news on the television and hindsight can add a new dimension to one's view. Sometimes after I have done something and see the effect, and after more thought, I am persuaded I could have done something better. I am never guilty of making the perfect decision always.
In the news business, there is also the conflict between "do we show it as it is so the viewer can decide for himself or herself?" or "do we edit (censor) the news for the viewers?" We make decisions about editing all the time based on good manners, content and time.
Of course none of the foregoing stops me from having ultimate responsibility for content and delivery. Having said this, let me discuss last night.
Last night was one of those times when we aired something in a manner that I now regret. At the top of the show, we started with the story of the South Korean hostage — this story included very disturbing video of this man begging for his life. We then aired the news that was coming out of Iraq — four of our Marines had been ambushed. Video of their dead bodies had been delivered to a news organization and then Fox, and others obtained copies. During our live "hit" out of Iraq, we showed you video of those four ambushed Marines. While none of the video showed close ups, the video was difficult to watch. Many viewers were outraged with our showing the video (see the e-mails below) and, with hindsight, I still would have shown the video BUT with a warning that the video was graphic and the viewer might want to turn away for a moment. Warnings often allow us to do it better — you may see it all if you wish (and then decide about the news, the war, etc.) or you may turn away for a moment because you don't want to see the terrible scenes. Frankly, there are scenes that I don't want to see (the recent beheadings are the best examples of that.)
Here are some of your comments: (and I might add, there were many viewers who felt the same and no viewer that thought we did the right thing)
E-mail No. 1
How absolutely horrible! My son is fighting in Iraq and you decide to show us pictures of four dead Marines! Is my child one of them? How about the wives and children and thousands of other parents who try to find a station they can watch where our loved ones jobs are not trashed each and every minute. This is my child's second tour and as a parent I can say it is not easy. First Iraq's prisoners night after night after night, now I suppose this. I'm turning off my TV.
E-mail No. 2
I was watching your show tonight, which I do almost every night. I was shocked at the footage of the four marines lying dead in Iraq. Not only was I shocked at the footage of these poor men, but that you had enough nerve to show them to the viewers. I was even more horrified when you zoomed in on them and let the American people see these young men, do you not understand that that is not just another lifeless body but someone's son, father, or brother. You obviously have no one in the service or you would be more careful of the footage you present on your show. Well, I do have loved ones in the service, a cousin that has just come back from Iraq and a brother that will soon be heading overseas. You and your little sidekick Geraldo had no right to show that to the loved ones of these marines waiting and wandering at home. It is because of worthless people like you that military families will have another sleepless night. My hope is that you will realize the mistake you have made, but I know you won't, you will just go on doing whatever will make the ratings go up. Greta, you have become like every other disgusting news anchor that has no heart and only cares about ratings and competition. Tonight, you have lost one viewer and I hope more will follow. You had no right to show that footage and I hope you and Geraldo someday feel the pain you have inflicted on your viewers tonight.
E-mail No. 3:
My wife and I do not appreciate Fox News showing video of fallen Marines in Iraq. Please consider the feelings of the parents, family and friends of those Marines when deciding what to show. The parents do not wish those scenes to be their last mental pictures of their loved ones.
Mark & Kathy Neno
E-mail No. 4:
How DARE you show the bodies of the 4 murdered Marines on your show! This is the Height of disrespect to them and their families. Do you think your viewers are so dense we don't understand the concept of 4 dead Marines?
What POSSIBLE value did that serve? I am appalled that you and your show stooped to the sensationalization of the deaths of Americans. I stopped watching network news because I was sickened by their liberal slant; I expect that sort of crap from them; that is why I don't watch them.
I THOUGHT foxnews had higher standards. Obviously you and Geraldo Rivera will do whatever it takes to try and boost the all-powerful ratings.
If this is the way your show will conduct itself, you can count on two things: 1. the terrorists will be pleased to have one more media flack helping spread their poison, and 2. I won't be watching your show any longer.
PS: If you desire information to slam me with on your blog, just e-mail and ask. I am not ashamed of my conduct. Can you say the same? Bruce Miller from Altoona is a boor; it's a shame to see you jump down in the gutter with him.
E-mail No. 5
I am appalled at Fox News for airing the footage of the four United States Marines who were found killed today. I watch your channel because I thought you had some integrity. I guess not! As a wife of a former Marine and the sister and cousin to several US Troops, I would think that some discretion would be used in what is aired. Are you not thinking of the families of our troops?! They watch the news just as any average American and do you think they want to see their loved ones dead on the television? I am a proud American and I support our troops. Your channels actions are not showing support, you are showing that you will stoop to any low to get the "story". Have some decency and think about the families of all who have been brutally murdered by these barbarians, including those who killed the American civilians.
While I am on the topic of news, and how we deliver it, I have a question: is there too much "light banter" discussion among our legal panelists? I thought long and hard about last night's show and worried about how the panel comes across to you. First, I want all of you to know, none of the panelists finds murder —or the deaths of Laci and Connor — in any way "funny." It is tragic. No one has any doubt about that. I have even had the difficult experience of meeting the parents of both Laci and Scott and each suffers beyond words every single day. You can't measure the loss. I hope you, the viewer, realize that the panelists' "light banter" is not directed toward the topic or is meant in any way to dilute the importance of a murder trial, or to dismiss the agony of the familiy or the tragic loss of life — but is to kid each other panelists. This is an important distinction. Of course, all attempts at humor must be done with good judgment and good balance. Having said that, what do you think?
Finally, here is an e-mail I received about Susan McDougal:
E-mail No. 6:
that bitch lies almost as good as the slickmeister.
bob, slapout, al.
My response: People can disagree — and I like good, smart, fun disagreement — but the level of vitriol is out of hand. I am most impressed with well thought out emails. Sometimes the e-mails convince me I did something wrong (see above about the Marine video.) As for Bob? He has too much time on his hands.
Do you have something you'd like to say to Greta? Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Watch On the Record with Greta Van Susteren weeknights at 10 p.m. ET