FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Dirty Little Secret of Network News

(This column is written in honor of Gary Webb formerly of the San Jose Mercury News who exposed the CIA connection in smuggling drugs into LA’s African American community.  For some reporting errors he was hung out to dry by his publisher and most of the Establishment media like the LATimes, Washington Post and NY Times.  He committed suicide.)

After cowboys, my heroes have always been reporters, in real life and in the movies.  Good, accurate reporters are the Phillip Marlowe and Sam Spades of our time – detectives tracking a crime in all but name.  A century ago Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens were insulted with the compliment of “muckraker” for exposing the crimes and cruelty of the Gilded Age.  Today’s muckraking by “detectives” like Matt Taibbi, Patrick Cockburn, Sy Hersh and James Risen is almost always a product of dull print not glamorous broadcast.   Bob Simon’s over 200 reports on CBS’s 60 Minutes, from places like Gaza, Vietnam and Bosnia, are shining exceptions for their straightforward, sympathetic writing and letting a story speak for itself not the journalist.

The dirty little secret of most network TV is that its finest stories – that is, those exposes that make the Establishment’s skin crawl –often start as “boring” research-based slogging by unglam reporters, for local newspapers like the Hartford Courant, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and San Jose Mercury News, armed only with a computer, telephone and public records index.

I was lucky to be born in Chicago a fabulous newspaper town, full of crime, dirty cops and dirtier judges, covered by my favorite tabloids including the Chicago Times where I served an apprenticeship as a copy boy.  Scandal and muckraking were the meat and drink for us OR Book Going RougeChicago readers in a one-party Democratic-dictatorship town.

Heaven knows there was enough muck to rake.  It was, and today often is, a rare judge or alderman who doesn’t end up in the clink.  Of the 100 or so people to serve as a Chicago alderman in the last four decades, 31 of them have been convicted of corruption. And let’s not even speak of the past governor Blagojevich who became the fourth of the past seven Illinois governors to be convicted of a felony.

Thus, I grew up in a headline hunting, scandalmongering, “irresponsible” tabloidish journalistic culture.

I first became a working journalist in London’s Fleet Street which in many ways resembled Old Timey Chicago’s graft, alcoholism and pursuit of trivial sleaze.

Given this history, I’m hardly one to sit in judgment on journalistic “ethical lapses”.   But there really is a world of difference between a sleek superstar like Brian Williams and a stone-cold reporter like Bob Simon.

On TV’s 60 Minutes Simon reported without performing.  (His last story, on Ebola, will appear this Sunday.)  Brian Williams is cut from a different cloth.  (See actor William Hurt in Broadcast News.)  Williams adored, and got addicted to, the ego-Botox of celebrity.  NBC pushed him absurdly hard as their Peacock Network brand, and paid him $10 million a year to shine on viewers with whatever is the opposite of real news. With his jut jaw, easy delivery and delight in telling fish stories to David Letterman on late nite TV shows, he is almost as much a victim of an anti-news system as its exploiter.

As an “embedded” war reporter in Iraq he broke an honest reporter’s first moral rule to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.  He praised the invasion as “the cleanest war in all of military history” in tune with elite journalism’s prevailing lies at the time.

Celebrity journalism usually stinks on TV.  You can be 99 percent certain that when ABC’s David Muir, CBS’s Scott Pelley and whoever NBC digs up as its next Rock Center star announces a “scoop” the crucial drudge work begins with a woman or man with a pencil and a sharp nose for news beavering away probably in some distant “regional” paper.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives. Sigal and Doris Lessing lived together in London for several years.

 

 

More articles by:

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail