Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner : SHOWBIZ JOURNALISM

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner : SHOWBIZ JOURNALISM

Article excerpt

Welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends: Brought to you and yours by CNN, al-Jazeera, and the al-Qaida terrorist network

Osama bin Laden is the biggest crime suspect since O.J. Simpson. His Arabic videos are dubbed in English for the TV news shows. His picture is always in Time and Newsweek. He is hot. Which is why the Cable News Network gave bin Laden The Treatment. The kind of media massage reserved for movie stars, baseball players, and other entertainment heavyweights.

Wolf Blitzer, all made up to look like a journalist, went on the air Oct. 16 and read six questions he hoped an unidentified person would deliver to bin Laden who then would record his answers on video tape whenever he got around to it. Follow-up questions like Why? How come? and What do you mean by that? would never be asked. Bin Laden's smirks, sighs, and body language -- the kinds of things that "60 Minutes" sage Mike Wallace once called the lie detectors of TV -- would never be brought into play.

Not that it would matter much. CNN got what it really wanted: lots of attention, which it shared with al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language TV network that is a partner in the scheme to snare bin Laden. Al-Jazeera's broadcasts of bin Laden statements make it seem like the Voice of Taliban.

CNN emasculated its own written guidelines when it read its questions on the air -- a curious show-business stunt that should have made its own reporters shudder in embarrassment. If CNN really wanted to find bin Laden, it could have done it the old-fashioned way: by sending out a correspondent to track him down.

But they had an answer for those who thought them ethical deviates: these are not normal times. Neither were those of the Gulf War. But back then CNN sent Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw into Baghdad.

CNN has said it would share bin Laden's recorded responses with any network that wanted to use them. And all indications are that CNN's broadcast brethren -- except for Fox -- will take the cable network at its word. The print news media has been just as excited by CNN's New Journalism techniques.

"Most print reporters who interviewed me said they would have agreed to submit questions if that were the only way they could get to him," said Matthew M. Furman, a CNN spokesman.

Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times raved about the CNN gambit. The Associated Press and The Washington Post even referred to Wolf Blitzer's reading of his six questions as an "interview" -- a distortion of that practice if there ever was one. …

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