Sunday, September 20, 2009

Portrait of the Evening "News"

   I am of the generation of print journalists who harbored some respect for certain of our competitors on the broadcast side -- especially if they worked for CBS.

  The likes of Fred W. Friendly, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and their colleagues provided us with a great deal of good journalism -- and would have provided exponentially more if they had ever managed to persuade CBS to make the nightly news an hour long.

   Another of the truly fine journalists of my generation, Mort Persky, closely monitors the performers, actors and entertainers who pose as journalists on TV these days.

   This is one of his reports:

   Alas, I don't think Walter Cronkite met his maker before seeing what happened to the TV news business since his, Murrow's and Bill Paley's day. Even without Fox, we actually have non-cable TV news telling us what it wants to tell us, the facts be damned. And the network "newscasts," by being a bit stealthier, do a better job of fooling their public than Fox, which because it is believed in like God, doesn't need to fool anyone. I've watched this on the 6:30 newscasts for years, though the only way I can stomach even two minutes of Fox is when it shows up as a clip on Olbermann or Maddow.

 Here's CBS last week, following up its report on Obama's healthcare speech (or is it the "You lie" speech?) with what they call their "USERS GUIDE To Healthcare"  (official looking visual right here emphasizes how factual this is gonna be. NOTE: Beware when ABC or CBS does something official looking like a "Users Guide" or a "Fact Check"; that's when the distortions flow thickest). Anyway, this "USERS GUIDE" purports to explain what a Public Option really means. But its target is bigger -- "government-run healthcare." For balance, they start with a white couple in Florida who run a small accounting firm and have to pay $2,000 a month -- one-fourth of their income -- for health insurance to cover themselves and their two sons, one of whom has a chronic illness. They're in their 50s, and can't afford to hire the employee they need and pay for health care too, They're rooting hard for the public option.

   For Point B, CBS moves to its man in Tennessee, which has, or had, a public system called TennCare. First, they show poor black woman benefiting from TennCare, unable to do without it. 2. Now they "report," then repeat and repeat that it damn near broke state of Tennessee and had to be cut back. Two persons are quoted on camera: Rep. Phil Roe, a Repub from the state's NE corner who was an obstetrician and pisses all over Tenncare. Also quoted is,Mary Bufwack, CEO of United Neighborhood Health Services of Nashville. She says, "Tenncare's lesson is a cautionary tale for us all. Tenncare's lesson is "Control costs, control costs, control costs." Hmmm. Why quote her? I smell a rat, and think her organization is some kind of anti-healthcare outfit with a cover-up name (a common subterfuge on CBS and ABC; the few-seconds quote and who's saying it is quicker than the eye). So I look up Ms. Bufwack's group, and it appears to pass the smell test. I drop her an email asking how she feels about the way she was quoted on CBS News.

   She answers a day later: "Mort, let's put it this way....One of my comments that did not get into the story was that the issue of TennCare's runaway costs wasn't that the state was too involved, the issue was that the state wasn't involved enough in controlling costs.  I also noted that one cannot leave cost controls to the private sector. How perceptive of you. Mary."

   CBS segment continues: Mark Strassmann, their man in Tennessee, closes out with a glimpse of Rep. Roe and a few dark words about how TennCare didn't work, cost way too much. His last words are, "Another reason many here will never trust government-run health care again."

   Portrait of the unbiased evening news on Walter Cronkite and Ed Murrow's old network. Congratulations, Katie!

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