Gartner zaps former colleagues
When it comes to battle coverage, print reporters cannot compare with the "brave, bold and almost swash-buckling" television crews, "as they charge throuh the world war zones," NBC News president Michael G. Gartner told a Los Angeles audience.
Using the Persian Gulf war as an example, Gartner described tv correspondents and cameramen as an "incredibly brave lot," adding, "There just aren't people like that in the newspaper business."
Gartner, a third-generation newspaperman who still has a hand in the business, was the speaker at the annual Otis Chandler Lecture at the University of Southern California's School of Journalism.
"When a newspaper reporter covers a war or riot or nearly anything else, he usually can report from a safe distance, wandering unobtrusively and alone with his notebook or his tiny recorder, avoiding the front lines and remaining in the background," Gartner continued.
This is impossible for a tv crew which, with its cameras and three or four people, must scramble in the midst of the action to get footage for the evening news, he asserted.
"There hasn't been a week go by since I've been at NBC that I haven't gotten reports of our people being caught in a cross fire, being stopped by troops, being in grave peril," Gartner said.
He further compared his tv correspondents with spies and soldiers of fortune "who love a life of risk."
According to Gartner, of the 17 journalists killed worldwide while covering a story in a foreign nation in the last three years, 12 were radio and tv reporters.
However, Mary Novick, manager of the Overseas Press Club of America Inc., said the club's files show that a total of about 300 print correspondents and photographers from various countries were killed covering World War II, Korea and Vietnam, compared with approximately 21 broadcast journalists.
Gartner, whose career has included being top editor of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register, Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, a Gannett general news executive and front-page editor of the Wall Street Journal, also contended that producers of evening news programs have a tougher job than newspaper editors.
The search for truth and accuracy, he explained, is more difficult for tv producers because they deal with images more than facts, and images can distort reality.
"Pictures can't lie, but the context in which they're used can," the speaker said. "That's why it's so terribly important" to have responsible crews, producers, correspondents and executive producers of news shows, he added.
"You can leave a lasting image - and it can be a wrong one," Gartner pointed out.
Not all Gartner's assessment of tv news was laudatory. He said the tube cannot deal well with stories involving complicated facts such as the savings-and-loan scandal, tax issues and foreign affairs.
"You can't re-read a television story . . . to better understand it," he observed. "That's why you can't force-feed facts through television; you can only deal with the headlines, the highlights. …