Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Play-by-Play War Coverage Not a Game

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Play-by-Play War Coverage Not a Game

Article excerpt

Byline: Charlie Patton, Times-Union columnist

There is something strange and unsettling about watching a war being televised live into our homes.

It happened before, of course, during the Persian Gulf War. But I don't remember being struck as forcefully then as I have been this week by how similar television's approach to covering war has become to television's approach to covering spectator sports.

As we watched television Sunday on opposite sides of the country, Frank Pace and I, dividing our attention between coverage of a war and coverage of a football game, were both struck by an odd sensation. It was as if the war coverage and the game coverage were being produced by the same people.

"You have Dan Rather and Peter Jennings doing the play-by-play and then you have all these retired generals being John Madden, the color commentator," said Pace, a Jacksonville University graduate who works as a television producer (his current show is the WB comedy Nikki). "It made me think about Woody Allen hiring Howard Cosell to do play-by-play of a revolution for the movie Bananas."

Some analysts called Vietnam "the living room war" because the network evening newscasts broadcast film and video reports from the battlefields into American living rooms. But those film clips were brief and, until late in the war, at least 24 hours old.

Sunday, when news broke that American armed forces were launching an attack against the Taliban and against the terrorist organization al-Qaida, this new war was covered live and in color. And, with CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC all now competing as 24-hour news channels, the coverage was round-the-clock. In fact, a nasty squabble briefly broke out because other networks were using footage from the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, based in the small Persian Gulf country Qatar, with which CNN has an exclusive arrangement (CNN has decided to waive exclusive rights, for the moment). …

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