Quality Sacrificed at Altar of 24-Hour News. (Political Notebook)

By Dettmer, Jamie | Insight on the News, April 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Quality Sacrificed at Altar of 24-Hour News. (Political Notebook)


Dettmer, Jamie, Insight on the News


This has been a harsh war for journalism. A handful of good practitioners were killed in action, including 51-year-old Terry Lloyd, a veteran foreign correspondent for Britain's Independent Television News. The urbane Lloyd was an old-style journalist--keen to be first but always determined to be accurate, and his experience and knowledge allowed him to balance the two.

Then there was Michael Kelly, the editor-at-large of the Atlantic Monthly, whose caustic conservative commentary was respected widely and who gave up the comforts of armchair punditry and went forth into battle for the final time.

Both Kelly and Lloyd maintained their usual high standards when covering the war. That can't be said of the bulk of TV and print reporters marauding around the Iraqi battlefield and neighboring states. Many have demonstrated an ignorance of warfare and the Middle East that would have appalled Lloyd and Kelly.

As ever the war drew a fair number of free-lancers, some highly experienced but most eager young amateurs who had thoughts of making a name for themselves and weren't too careful how they set out to do it. The BBC's Allan Little, a veteran war correspondent, wrote a column shortly after Lloyd's death highlighting the complaints of an experienced TV cameraman about the risks his free-lance producer and reporter were ready to run on a battlefield they didn't understand. "They scare the hell out of me," he lamented.

More shocking, though, has been the lack of expertise and understanding exhibited by many staff journalists and their media organizations. They failed time and again even to try to cut through the fog of war by providing authentic context for their reports. The best on offer most of the time was the "boyish enthusiasm" of the embedded correspondents--hardly a triumph in balanced or accurate journalism.

Most TV executives don't see it this way. They have eyes only for the pictures and the huge technological advance that has come with real-time war coverage. The response to that should be great visuals, pity about the commentary, though.

Inexperienced and subpar journalism led to some major mistakes, and to the acceptance of disinformation and misinformation as reliable reporting. The lines between fact and propaganda became disturbingly blurred.

Part of the reason for that came also from the demands of round-the-clock news that resulted in military claims being relayed instantly to millions without confirmation or verification. False reporting came quickly. Take for example the battle for Umm Qasr. That southern Iraqi deep-sea port was an early target and, by the first weekend of the war it had been reported "taken" several times by the military and the media. …

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