FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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

April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail