Integrity Matters
April 9, 2003

"Scoops" drive war news broadcasts

Question: (E-036)
As a former TV News Anchor in both the Miami and Los Angeles markets, I am well aware that the media prioritizes and slants stories to gain maximum viewership. However, I am horrified to see the steps that the networks and news services are taking in their coverage of the war in Iraq to outdo each other.

Of greatest concern is the lack of integrity shown by some highly placed celebrity news anchors who, in their slanted speculations about events, motivations and strategies, could undermine the legitimacy of our leadership, inadvertently provide strategic insight for our enemy, and otherwise give aid and comfort to that enemy. Throughout the media, it can be difficult to distinguish between the objective delivery of news (reporting) and the attempt to influence thought (editorial and commentary).

Worse still, unscrupulous and perverse members of our media, in their misguided efforts to "scoop" the competition, have exposed to American families the wartime slaughter of their sons and daughters on television before the next-of-kin notification process had an opportunity to assure simple human dignity.

News coverage that is live 24 hours a day faces incredible challenges. This coverage must be enticing and informative, yet simultaneously attract sponsors whose objectives are to sell products and services.

Herein we find the difficulty: When push comes to shove, will news organizations choose to supply us with important news? Market-share seems to influence the shape of reporting.

Our media supply lots of interesting stories, but not necessarily important information. Further, when the public demands sensational stories rather than enlightening information, reporting will likely respond to the “want to know” mentality instead of the “essential to know”. Add the economic pressure of attracting advertising dollars to our society’s incredible appetite for gobbling up stories and tidbits of fascinating and sensational news, and one is confronted by a competitive stage ripe for abuse, indecision and irresponsibility.

The responsibility of a news reporting organization is not entertainment. Giving to people what they want (and beg for) may not always be what is wisest. Consider the alcoholic begging for another drink or the drug abuser seeking one more “high”.

If the media, electronic and print, cannot determine how best to regulate themselves (on behalf of the society that bestows freedom of the press), then they jeopardize the very foundations of our society! Our column, “Integrity Matters,” has addressed abuses by many enterprises. Over and over, we caution individuals and institutions to govern their own behaviors. The very same must be said about the media.

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