In the U.K., news “anchors” are called “presenters.” It’s high time we make that distinction here in America as well. Those who read the news and interview others are little more than highly paid middle men. Wall Street taught us that middlemen and women do not always work in our best interest. Without reporters putting real boots on the ground, these celebrity anchors are just pushing opinions around… usually the opinions of a tenacious agent, public relations firm, or powerful political consultants.
Consider the erosion in trust this behavior causes. If you are old enough to recall the movie Broadcast News, you will remember William Hurt playing a naïve and ethically challenged anchor. In that movie, Mr. Hurt’s character plays a reporter who is reprimanded by a producer played by Holly Hunter. Why was he reprimanded? He faked a reaction to an interview by working up tears for the camera afterwards.
In another scene, Holly Hunter reprimands a photographer who tells a “rebel fighter” to put on his boots in hopes of getting a good “action shot.” Hunter’s character screams at the photog and his subject, “Stop! We are not here to stage the news.”
The message was the same one taught in my newsroom way back when. Do not fake anything while reporting the news. No re-enactments, no pretense, no Hollywood play-acting… just record real events with an understanding of what is happening and why. The only way to do that is to get reporters living, eating, and drinking in the neighborhoods they are reporting from. It’s dangerous. America has lots of enemies. Ask Danny Pearl’s wife and friends. But the reporting has to get done.
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “The steady character of our countrymen is a rock to which we may safely moor.” But, how can we build that national character when much of our news polarizes, simplyfies and exaggerates?
Today, it seems that just as we begin to trust an “anchor” or “reporter,” we are, sadly, all too often reminded that we shouldn’t.
Most recent case in point — anchors playing themselves in a movie. This recent trend has notable “presenters” seamlessly crossing over from reading the news into performing a script. In this case, the movie is the Ides of March.
Watching some of those I’ve come to trust, now reading lines in a movie about political games, the selfishness of celebrity and the benefits of betrayal… well, it was sort of like watching Wag the Dog and the Truman Show at the same time.
So, when are they play-acting and when are they not?
Are they play-acting while pretending to care about war? Are they play-acting when they talk about caring for our troops? How about when they talk about God and religion? Abortion and gay rights? The wedge issues are ratings grabbers, but what about living on the brink of nuclear annihilation? Or living on a planet that seems determined to spit us out? A planet whose inhabitants are willing to destroy the very air, water and food that sustain all forms of life?
Reading a phony script about a phony political campaign in a phony world with phony reporters, it’s all just too tiring to buy into. When will America get a broadcast with reporters around the world, each living and breathing in countries of conflict? That is the only way to humanize both our allies and our “enemies.” The only way to “Steady our Character.”
If we understand conflicts, Americans are less likely to get drawn into them.
The distanced reporter, whether sitting in an anchor chair or riding in a helicopter, is incapable of helping citizens understand the source of anger on the ground, or drawing attention to common denominators among those who would like to believe they have none.
Eventually, those “celebrity” reporters will pave their own road to irrelevancy.
I don’t blame the reporters and anchors. Not anymore. I blame their bosses and ultimately the Federal Communication Commission — for allowing those who should not — to own our nation’s airwaves in the first place.
When NBC is a network and Comcast and GE own NBC — I suppose it was just naïve to believe stock holders wouldn’t push these anchors to be celebrities. Plus reporters willing to risk their lives by putting boots on the ground are expensive and hard to come by.
Perhaps these few corporations, owning America’s networks today, are most afraid of real reporters because a real reporter might come to realize that those who sign their pay checks deserve the most scrutiny.