Charlie Gibson’s war

News that former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had dropped dimes on both the Bush Administration and the media for their respective mishandling of the Iraq War was a bombshell that created more bloody rubble than any
rational person could ever sift through.

As this is neither a political nor a media-crit column, we get to focus on a neat little corner of the debate: Who the hell is Charlie Gibson trying to fool? Brian Williams, too. Pretending the networks asked the tough questions. C’mon.

In the wake of the tempest, Gibson, Williams, and Katie Couric went on a romp through the various network morning shows saying things like, “There was a lot of skepticism” and, “It’s not our job to debate `administration officials`.”

Only Couric, rumored to be leaving CBS’s anchor chair by 2009, expressed regret, telling the Early Show she considered it, “one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism.”

True enough. The insinuation in her language there, though, was that Couric believes herself to be part of the fraternity called “American journalism.” That’s where she and I disagree.

Television news isn’t journalism, it’s entertainment. In the wake of McClellan’s tell-all, that only became more obvious. On May 28, ABC/CNN/MSNBC reporter Jessica Yellin told Anderson Cooper, “The press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings.”

Infuriating, right? But who to be pissed at? Executives? Reporters? That’s the easy call. How about nobody? This is hard for me — I looove pointing fingers — but TV hasn’t done anything wrong.

They’ve just given us what we want.

If America wanted real news — if we wanted our leaders held accountable, if we wanted to be challenged — we’d seek out that kind of programming. If we expressed our desires loudly enough, networks would give it
to us.

The reason Gibson asked weapons inspectors which WMDs Americans should fear most and Williams pussyfooted around any criticism of the Bush administration’s policies is roughly the same reason Veronica Mars is no longer on the air. Demographic data tells executives America doesn’t like to be challenged and no one steps up to say otherwise.

And so, in the philosophical vacuum that is the average American life, challenging reporting goes the way of challenging programming. “The fault” — if I may co-opt Shakespeare to really cement this column’s air of haughty critical disdain — “is not in our `network TV` stars, but in
ourselves.” •


30 Days The documentary series in which Morgan Spurlock takes his blockbuster idea from Super Size Me and spins it out in any number of directions began its third season last week.
(FX, Tuesdays, 10 pm)

Ice Road Truckers Foul-mouthed truckers. Murderous ice roads. It’s Deadliest Catch with more ego (if such a thing’s possible). (History, Sundays, 10 pm)

The Bill Engval Show Have you seen TBS’s promos for the new season? Once every Family Guy rerun, balding, hickish, unfunny Bill strides into the lower half of the screen with a remote control, actually pauses the episode, then goes into his spiel about the new season. Sickening. (TBS, premieres June 12, “right after Family Guy!”)

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