Tag Archives: journalism

Daniel Schorr, a real journalist

Reading obits of Daniel Schorr, the independent-minded journalist who had the courage to defy the powerful (he was on the Nixon enemies list), I remember how Schorr stood up to Ted Turner in the early days of CNN.

When I joined CNN in April of 1981 I was worried that Turner, loud-mouthed and erratic, would do something so embarrassing that it would ruin the credibility of the fledgling all-news experiment. Soon after I joined, Turner almost succeeded in doing that. He did an on-air editorial in which he said that the producers of the movie “Taxi Driver” should be put on trial for John Hinckley’s shooting of President Reagan. Turner’s logic was a bit skewed. He said the producers were at fault because their movie had inspired Hinckley: “The people responsible for this movie should be just as much on trial as John Hinckley himself … Write your Congressman and your Senator right away, and tell him that you want something done.”

Just when I thought CNN’s reputation would be destroyed by this nutty comment by its owner, to its credit CNN ran an on-air reply by CNN commentator Schorr contradicting Turner. Schorr said having Congress take action against film producers could violate First Amendment protections against government censorship.

Schorr had a checkered career, and not everything he did was above criticism, but standing up to his boss at CNN was an example of Schorr at his best. He spoke truth to power, and in that he was a real journalist.

(Photo: NY1)

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King of bad journalism

Amid all the praise for Larry King as he prepares to depart, I hate to rain on his parade but the truth is that much of what he did was bad journalism. He used up an entire hour at an all-news network to give celebrities free publicity, at a time when I and other CNN Washington correspondents were trying to ask the tough questions that journalists need to ask. Most of the time King’s questions weren’t even softballs. They were  invitations to celebrities to tell us how wonderful they are. And the worst moment of all came on Jan. 18, 2001.

That was when King was on the stage with newly-elected President George W. Bush. It was at a pre-inaugural party paid for by Bush supporters and carried live on CNN. The decision had been made by CNN to let King host the event, a decision that CNN execs later regretted, since this clearly created the appearance of pro-administration bias by an employee of a news organization. Good journalists are supposed to not only be detached but adopt an adversarial relationship toward the powerful. That evening Larry King did the exact opposite.

To make it worse, at one point he rushed up to Bush and hugged him.

I watched in dismay, and so did most other journalists. As CNN reporter John King (no relation) later put it: “I watched in shame and horror.”

For the many people in this country who suspect that news media are biased, this seemed to be proof, live on TV, that journalists take sides in politics and distort the news. The reality is that I did everything I could in my thirty-four years as a journalist to be as objective as is humanly possible, and so did most other journalists I knew. But all of our efforts to be impartial seemed undercut by that one shameful hug.

To be sure, King did provide entertainment for viewers, and, at least until recently, high ratings for CNN. Occasionally he did ask a good question. But most of the time he missed opportunities to confront the powerful. Journalists are supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, but Larry King just comforted the comfortable. What a shame.

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Filed under CNN, media bias, news media

Imagine a world without oil

As news media expand their coverage of the BP oil disaster, some enterprising journalist should look at the wider historical perspective – and the possibility that many of our worst foreign policy and security problems can be traced back to oil.

It’s doubtful that the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq would have taken place if Iraq had not had oil. That invasion was Bush’s follow-up to his father’s 1991 war to drive Iraqi invaders out of Kuwait – a war that probably would not have taken place if Kuwait had not had oil. That 1991 war caused a massive presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil, which Osama Bin Laden said was a desecration of sacred Saudi soil by infidels. That argument may have helped recruit supporters for al Qaida, which in turn may have helped create conditions for the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. responded to 9/11 by invading Afghanistan, launching the longest war in our history, and we are still there today, with few prospects of any clear “victory.”

There’s more: Oil revenues fuel the Iranian government’s nuclear program and its support of Hezbollah and Hamas.  The Iranian government’s hostility toward the West dates back to the U.S. and British involvement in the 1953 overthrow of the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mossadegh. The U.S. and Britain did this because Mossadegh was nationalizing the British-controlled oil industry, run by a predecessor of BP. The CIA-orchestrated coup that ousted Mossadegh led to the installation of the hated regime of the Shah. The human rights abuses of the Shah’s regime helped create conditions for the 1979 Iranian revolution and the current tension between the U.S. and Iran — historical context often missing from news media reports.

So, you could argue that if it weren’t for our dependence on oil, there might have been no Iranian hostility toward the West, no jihadists at the current level, no war in Iraq, no quagmire in Afghanistan, and no devastation of our Gulf coast. Oil isn’t the only factor in history, of course, but it’s a major one, and if we could live free of oil, we could avoid many of our current problems.

World without oil, amen.

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Filed under Afghanistan, BP, BP oil, Iraq, media bias, Middle East, terrorism, war