Grading the Media on Terrorism Coverage. (Your Life)

Article excerpt

In the initial days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, media representatives did an excellent job covering "spot news," but now need to be careful to find middle ground in their reporting, say Steven Reese and Don Heider, journalism professors at the University of Texas at Austin. With the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., there is a new factor that affects news coverage--the personal attack on American soil, Reese points out. "This raises the stakes and makes it even harder to entertain political views outside the narrow mainstream. The media `frame' of the events began to narrow quickly after the first week. Now, it is `America Fights Back' or `America Responds.' Combining this framing with the patriotism invoked by news organizations makes clear policy analysis more difficult."

Reese, co-author of The Militarism of Local Television: The Routine Framing of the Persian Gulf War, finds it particularly objectionable for a news organization like NBC to cast its peacock logo in red, white, and blue. "This is reminiscent of television news anchor desks literally wrapped in the American flag during the Gulf War."

Heider, who won five Emmys and an Edward R. Murrow Award for his work in television news in Nashville, Tenn., and teaches TV reporting at the university, agrees that some journalists are promoting patriotism, rather than covering it. "And, in some cases, some journalists are promoting cynicism rather than covering it. It's easy for news organizations--in these special times--to start crossing tines they might otherwise be careful of. Anchors with red, white, and blue ribbons on their lapels, reading news on news sets draped in the flag, can be seen as taking the position that we should be at war.

"Journalists also can get too cynical. …