NBC anchor Brian Williams made much of the fact that when he went on a helicopter flight with an Israeli officer to take a look at the fighting, “We got closer than we intended.” Turns out that some shells landed in the distance. War is Hell, Brian.
Even more troubling was the fact that the Williams segment, along with reports by several other NBC correspondents, ran on Scarborough Country, an overtly politicized talk show, further blurring the line between news and opinion and muddying the waters of cable journalism.
Amid segments from such stalwart NBC correspondents as Martin Fletcher, there was Scarborough describing Hezbollah as an “Iran-backed terror group” and throwing former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak softballs like, “Why is it the more Israel is willing to give up to the Palestinians, the more your country comes under attack?” Meanwhile, conservative iconoclast Tucker Carlson, sans bowtie, has been out there “reporting” from the Israeli border, asking real NBC correspondents such leading questions as, “Do we have any idea whether this city was targeted by Hezbollah because of its Christian population?” (This isn’t just about “good” Christians and “bad” Muslims, Tucker.)
There is plenty of room on cable television for politicized talk shows of all stripes. But in allowing — or, rather, ordering — its respected news correspondents to appear on such shows, the networks are trading credibility for ratings and cementing their transition from purveyors of news to citadels of infotainment.
Lost in the fog of hype and self-aggrandizement on the cable segments I saw was much of the subtle complexity of the conflict. Instead, it was too often reduced to the black-hat/white-hat characterization that has guided U.S. policy toward the region.
My view was one slice of the coverage. I did not see the main network evening newscasts or the morning shows. What I did was what so many Americans do these days — I grazed cable news in fits and snatches. And I came up hungry.
Lawrence Pintak is the director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo. A former CBS News Middle East correspondent, his most recent book is Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas. He can be reached at lpintak ~at~ aucegypt.edu.