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TV History In the Making

4/06/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

At the risk of alienating the entire television industry — or sounding like an unpatriotic, myopic wimp — I have thrown in the towel and have pretty much turned a deaf ear to watching televised reporting of the war.

I've turned to newspapers instead. But try as hard as I might, I cannot seem to get away from the very topic of how the U.S. media outlets, including the cable news networks, are covering, or not covering, the action in Iraq.

There must have been two dozen articles alone on the subject last week, and it's not surprising when you stop and think that history of a different sort — in which the media is the story — is being made for the very first time.

Like it or not, because of the Pentagon's decision to "embed" reporters to join our armed troops in the thick of the war front, the media coverage itself is now a part of the war.

There have been demonstrations from anti-war protesters targeting media companies who have said our reporters are "in bed with the Pentagon," or acting as "stenographers for the Pentagon."

The rhetoric about the war coverage continues unabated. As one anti-war, anti-media demonstrator told Multichannel News, "Mainstream media can't be trusted. How can [NBC, MSNBC and CNBC] be unbiased when their parent company, General Electric, is in the business of selling military hardware?"

Criticism of U.S. reporting on the war doesn't stop there. Last week there were countless articles slamming coverage from stateside media outlets, contrasted with more critical coverage by international media outlets around the world.

Not surprisingly, I'm not the only person who is giving Cable News Network, Fox News Channel and MSNBC a rest and turning to Home & Garden Television or an episode of The Golden Girls
to give my psyche a reprieve.

Other media executives have confided that they too have turned to comfort television, like reruns of The Cosby Show, when in need of a little mashed potatoes for the soul.

It is dizzying and confusing to watch the wall-to-wall coverage of a televised live war, or to even attempt to understand what is happening when watching real-time bombings in the towns surrounding Baghdad.

Frankly, when I have TV war coverage on at work, half the time I can't tell if I'm looking at something that is happening now, or at events from the day before. Mostly, I'm distracted from trying to read the crawl running at the bottom, which the cable networks seem to just love.

This is not a slam on the cable news networks that are providing this coverage. They are doing their jobs and that job, for now, is to chronicle a war. Someday, and I don't know when, someone — most likely a historian and not TV anchor — will weave it all together and bring context to events that are still unfolding and make absolutely no sense at the moment.

Perspective takes time to jell. That's the reason it takes decades or centuries to write a history book. And those books get rewritten with the passage of even more time. Believe it or not, there are historians who still debate and publish books on the fall of Rome.

So I am not among the critics who say they are not getting the analysis they want from today's breed of cable television reporters and anchors. How could they possibly do it so early in the war?

September