From what I have read in the last few days, Peter Jennings was a real saint. He tried to help others, and he even challenged Bush on the war, it is said, even if in indirect ways. Well, I am glad Peter Jennings tried to help others, and sometimes worked in soup kitchens and so forth. That speaks well of him.
But hold on for a minute. I work installing air conditioners in Ambulances. If I did my job as poorly as Jennings, I wouldn’t last one day. It was Jennings job, supposedly, to report the news truthfully, and be objective. That is what a “Journalist” is supposed to do in a “free” society. Did Jennings?
When I install air conditioning systems, I am expected to do it right and tell the truth if I discover a problem, even if it is the company’s fault, or my fault, so the problem can be dealt with in a professional manner and resolved. For instance, if the company ordered the wrong parts, or told the customer a system could be installed in a manner it cannot be, I need to say so, whether they really want to hear it or not. If I leave something loose, or do something improperly, they need to know the situation, and how long it may take to either correct or re-install the system.
As a parent, I need to take responsibility if my actions somehow jeopardizes my children or family, or anyone else.
Even Ralph Nader has come out with an article praising Jennings. I like Nader, and admire his tenacity. But his praise of Jennings should have also included the facts about Jennings job performance.
In “Shock and Awe” Jennings assured the public we were using “precision” bombs, such as guided missiles and other “high tech” means to keep civilian casualties “low.”
On December 20, 1989, CBS anchor Dan Rather referred to the Panamanian leader as a “swamp rat,” and “at the top of the list of the world’s drug thieves and scums.” Peter Jennings called Noriega “one of the more odious creatures with whom the United States has had a relationship.” The documentary “The Panama Deception,” did an outstanding job of showing media complicity with the Government agenda. Jennings referred to the people that Noriega supposedly was using to intimidate his opponents as “goons,” repeating verbatim the first Bush Administration’s propaganda. Jennings also repeated the Gov. line on the number of Panamanians killed. Jennings did little if anything to inform the public that Noriega’s “drug dealings” were allot smaller than those of other countries. Peter Jennings claimed that the US broke with Noriega after the “question of drugs came up,” when in fact his drug running days were mostly a few years before that, with the full knowledge of the US Government. (And very likely with the blessing of the Reagan administration.) Even rudimentary “investigative journalism” would have uncovered that fact. The likelihood is Jennings knew it full well, but simply reported a lie, just like all the other examples. It would take a blind leap of faith to believe otherwise.
Far from Jenning’s “reporting” on those wars being abnormalities, the news left out of Jennings “World News” told the story much more than his “journalism.”
What is I left out details in air conditioning as important as what Jennings left out in his Network programming? What if I left something loose that resulted in the Ambulance crashing? As to my family, or someone else’s, what if I drove drunk and killed people due to my irresponsible negligence?
When news anchors are complicit in actions that cause death, or when their negligence is an insult to freedoms of all kinds, including press freedom, they should be held accountable and pay the price. In the case of Jennings, the price should be clear: He was a willing whore of the Corporate Press and that should be his legacy.
If an ordinary citizen does good deeds on occasion, but does a lousy job, they are held accountable, as they should be. Their good deeds notwithstanding. Jennings should not be held in high regard for a low standard. Had his reporting been better, and he actually stood on principle, along with other reporters and journalists, we might have a society where there were no homeless shelters.
RICK WILHELM can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org