Thursday, March 24, 2011

Another "Nightly News"

This week I return to “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.”


This story focuses on a downed United States fighter jet in Libya and the local reaction.  Anchor Brian Williams begins this section dryly by talking about how none of the bombing runs have killed Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi.  Gaddafi is quoted as saying that he will be ultimately victorious.  Williams also makes clear that the no-fly zone and bombing raids are currently being led by the United States.   Williams then sends the report off to Jim Miklaszewksi, NBC’s Pentagon correspondent.
                Miklaszewski gives a brief description of the mechanical failure that caused the crash.  He speaks of how both pilots ejected, and how one pilot was found near the wreckage shortly after the incident.  The other pilot, however, was taken in by the “rebels” and welcomed kindly.  Miklaszewski makes note that the jet did drop a few bombs and fire bullets on its way downward, injuring some civilians.  He also mentions how the civilians who were injured were not mad at the Americans.  The report then shifts focus to the large statecraft issues.  Miklaszewski talks about a meeting between Russian officials and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.   The Russians “lectured Gates” on the apparent killing of civilians by Americans.  Gates retorts that Gaddafi is the one killing civilians.  The report ends with a note about wanting to meet a deadline for ending United States bombing action.  At that point America would provide surveillance and support.  No date was given.
                The objectivity here is murky, and the wording overall is vague.  Williams’ share of the piece is straight and to the point, as an anchor’s portion should be.  Miklaszewski’s part is marred by his own feelings though.  It is unnecessary for him to mention that the person who is injured by a stray bullet is not angry at the American pilot.  He is clearly trying to rile up feelings of dissent similar to those caused by the bombings of Baghdad in the current war in Iraq.  This is unprofessional and slanted.  Also, the language is unclear.  As I have previously mentioned, the media needs to clarify who are the “rebels/opposition.”  Also, seeing as the uprising is civilian based, is it even possible to say there are “civilian casualties”?  It makes more sense to just say “rebel casualties” or even “friendly fire”!  NBC fails at clarifying who was hurt in these exchanges.  Instead, the network only casts a negative light on the American troops by saying they have caused civilian casualties.


This feature discusses the current radiation threat to Japan and the services being provided to the citizens.  Williams begins by almost enthusiastically saying that radiation detectors within the United States have picked up trace elements of radiation from Japan’s broken reactors.    He mentions that there is no threat at the moment in the United States.  Williams then shows some statistics about the effects of radiation in Japan.  Science correspondent Robert Bazell then takes over on location in Japan.  He is broadcast from the Saitama Super Arena.  This former sporting venue has been converted into a refugee and distribution center for victims of the earthquake, tsunami, and radiation.  He reports that around 2,300 people are currently residing in the arena.  Local organizations and individuals are bringing donations to help the people with everyday necessities.  Bazell interviews a woman whose husband works at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  She is worried for, yet proud of him.    The report is then sent back to Williams.  He ends the story by saying that the FDA has stopped all shipments of produce and food from the affected region of Japan.
                This story highlights the fact that the international community is not doing enough for Japan.  In Bazell’s report, there is not one mention of international aid.  The supplies given to the refugees come from their countrymen.  When comparing this disaster to the earthquake in Haiti last year, almost every story mentioned the face that international entities were helping provide from the affected peoples.  Japan is being left to help itself because it can help itself.  This is wrong.  If the international community will help people who have no way to recover, then it must send aid to a country that can get itself back on its feet and begin being a productive, necessary power.
                The media seems to be too focused on the nuclear issue.  Yes, this is a problem, and people like to hear it because they do not understand it.  However, even the Japanese government has been criticized for paying too much attention to the Fukushima reactors than to the thousands of people impacted by the tsunami.  For Williams to talk about how America is showing trace elements of radiation is ridiculous.  Information like that is not helpful and only causes unrest.  One redeeming factor of this report is the interviews with the people in the refugee center.  For a woman to be proud of her husband to risk his life is laudable in itself.  This sentiment is shared by the general Japanese public, too.  Those citizens are truly amazing, and it was nice to see NBC highlighting them.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Un-"Evening News"

This week, I tuned back in to the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.”  While her wardrobe was questionable, the lack of objectivity was undeniable.
Link to the episode:


This segment covered Thursday’s Congressional hearings on the potential radicalization of America’s Muslim population.  Anchor Katie Couric opened up the package with a generalized statement about how Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called this hearing to discuss recent terror plots and how they relate to the United States’ Islamic faithful.  Reporter Nancy Cordes then took over, reporting that some Democrats said King was “demonizing an entire religion” with these hearings.  Cordes also stated that King ignored calls for the hearings to be canceled.  She then described the room in which the meeting was held, making note of the new “fiery imagery from 9/11.”  The witnesses are depicted as people who all share King’s exact view on the subject of American Muslim extremism.  Cordes said that Democrats were calling this hearing a blatant abuse of power.  King felt it justified due to the increased number of domestic terror plots from radical Islam.  Cordes ended her report by saying that King thought this to be his “happiest day.”
                This report made King look like a monster who had no knowledge of the first amendment and who wanted to see Muslims expelled from the country.  The mention of how the room had imagery from 9/11 was totally irrelevant to the report, but only served to slam those people who feel it appropriate to use images to remember that horrible day.  However, I will grant Cordes the fact that having pictures of a terrorist attack in a room for hearings on homeland security is somewhat crafty rhetoric.  Furthermore, Cordes just kept making King seem like he was the only one who wanted these hearings.  Other Republicans were there, as were Democrats. As to the Democrats, if they really had a problem, why did they not actually do something rather than just sit and moan like Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas?  Cordes also attacks the witnesses.  This just is not right.  Some of those men have lost family members to Islamic jihad.  They should be looked upon with sympathy, not spite.  This report was typical CBS attacking Republicans.


This story dealt with how the Wisconsin state government used interesting tactics in order to pass labor reform and how protestors are vehemently opposed to said changes.  Couric began this section by discussing how budget battles were being waged across the nation.  She then sent it off to correspondent Cynthia Bowers in Madison, Wis.  Bowers started her report with images of the police and protestors struggling against each other.  She also mentioned that even some members of the state senate were barred entry by the police.  Bowers then explained the tactics used by the Republicans to pass this bill.  They realized that the bill would be unable to pass as written with the language of budgets.  The 14 democrats who fled the state would have to be present for that vote to take place.  Instead, the Republicans changed the wording to be about labor rights and benefits.  Bowers spoke of how the remaining Democrats could only fight against their eventual defeat.  The bill passed.  The reported ended with a threat from Democrats that they would challenge the legality of the bill, questioning the methods by which it was passed.
                Bowers does a good job of keeping things even here.  She does somewhat criticize the Republicans for trying to get their bill passed by any means necessary, but that is their job.  The Democrats obviously did not see the Republicans using the gambit of changing the bill’s language.  I find it interesting that Bowers mentions the clashes between the protestors and police.  Interestingly, police have a union and will probably be impacted just as much by this legislation.  Frankly, this issue is being blown out of proportion.  Only 11.9 percent of workers are actually part of a union*.  The issue of union rights has hit the national stage, but for what reason?  Is the government forgetting the benefit of the whole in order to secure the benefits of a little over a tenth of the working population?    Once again, the media has conflagrated an issue that would have otherwise stayed in a state government into a full-blown national problem.

*  <--Bureau of Labor Statistics Report of Unions

Friday, March 4, 2011

Second Time Round the "World News"

This week, I return to ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer.”  I think I will repeat the cycle of the networks and at the end of the 12 weeks give my verdict on which one is the most objective.

                The top story for this broadcast was about how Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, wants to dramatically change the way education is done in the United States.  Anchor Diane Sawyer began the package by describing how federal spending on education has been mishandled and is detrimental to students, teachers and schools.  Reporter Ron Claiborne then took over and discussed how Gates and his foundation are inserting themselves into a “very political issue.”  Claiborne spoke of how the “generally soft-spoken” Gates has “radical ideas and sharp criticism” for the current education system.   A rundown of Gates’ current initiatives and future ideas followed.  Currently Gates is conducting research on how good teachers teach by using video recordings.  Claiborne pointed out that this research is taking place in mainly urban education districts, like Memphis, Tenn.  Gates questioned how salaries are being paid, especially when it comes to teacher seniority and teachers with advanced degrees.  He found that teachers that have been at a school longer or have an advanced degree rarely show better results from their students.  Highlighting the other side of the issue, Claiborne featured a quote from President of the National Education Association, Dennis von Roekel.  Von Roekel disagreed with Gates, saying that higher degrees make a distinct difference in teaching ability.  Claiborne speaks of Gates’ most interesting proposition: that better teachers should take on more students and that the smaller class-size model may not work.  Gates feels that a better teacher taking on “five or six more students” would allow more students to achieve.
                Honestly, I am predisposed to agree with anything Bill Gates says because he is an icon of mine.  However, ABC does a good job of not taking all of Gates’ arguments at face value.   While never demeaning or bashing Gates, ABC is able to put his ideas into the public forum in an unbiased way.  The addition of the quote from Von Roekel made the piece much more balanced.  Gates does have some “radical” ideas about how education should be done, but it may be good for the education community to hear them.  I am curious, however, why Claiborne felt it necessary to mention that Memphis, Tenn., was one of the areas being monitored by Gates.  The piece would have been fine without this addition and could have stood without the clarification of a city.  Perhaps Claiborne thought he should at least focus the audience’s perception of “urban.”  All in all, this is a good report.

                The problems in Libya rage on, and ABC was there to cover the conflict.  This story covered the president’s recent actions, the rebel defensive against the Libyan air force and the feasibility of a no-fly zone.  Sawyer began this package by discussing how President Obama has called for Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi to step down from power.  Interestingly, both Obama and Sawyer use Gaddafi’s military title when referring to him.  This may be a formality on their part, or possibly an attempt at objectivity.  Sawyer mentioned that Obama left the option of a no-fly zone open in his speech Wednesday. 
                Sawyer then sent the package over to Tripoli, Libya, where correspondent Lama Hasan provided updates on the Libyan rebels.  Hasan discussed how the people of Libya want a no-fly zone established in order to protect them from Gaddafi’s fighter jets.  Hasan mentions the oil-rich town of Brega, where Gaddafi’s fighters had struck hard.  The rebels managed to ward them off and avoided more casualties.  Hasan questioned whether or not the rebels “have the firepower” needed to continue the fighting. 
                Before going on to the second part of this segment, I want to critique Hasan’s report.  Firstly, in ethical terms, is firepower what is necessary to win this struggle?  Should there be more talks going on within the Libyan government and country about how to resolve this issue before any other country gets involved.  Also, the people need to realize that fighting back could possibly make things harder for them down the line and that the small gains will be worth nothing, should Gaddafi regain control.  Journalistically, Hasan needs to clarify who is who.  She starts off the segment by saying, “The opposition here is in favor of a no-fly zone.”  This statement clearly indicates that “opposition” is the people who are fighting for freedom from Gaddafi.  Later in the piece, when describing the conflict at Brega, Hasan reports, “Brega is a powerful oil-town that has fallen under the control of the opposition.”  Now who is the opposition?  The use of “fallen under” leads this viewer to think that the Libyan government has seized Brega, as the government and Gadaffi supporters are generally considered the “bad guys.”  Based on her previous statement, the opposition is the team the audience should be cheering for, though.   Hasan never clarifies whether or not Brega fell to the government or the people.  Hasan needs to realize that she misused terms and confused her audience.  Also, as I discussed in my last post, the media seems to be spurring on this and other conflicts in the Middle East by highlighting the need for more “firepower” and by showing the general violence that encapsulates the region.  ABC may want to choose its words a bit more carefully when reporting this event.
                Getting back to the story, Sawyer then sends it off to Martha Raddatz, the ABC Pentagon reporter.  Raddatz reported that for the United States to help with a no-fly zone, it would require 24 fighter jets, an aircraft carrier, a tanker, and a radar-equipped plane called an “ARACS.”  Raddatz also expressed doubt at how much money the proposed operation would cost.  She reported that in order for an internationally-aided no-fly zone to be put into effect, the United Nations would have to agree to it, or NATO would have to be on-board.  Raddatz expressed more concern for the project by saying that the United States had neither of these two approvals at the current time.  In addition, she raises the question of whether or not the no-fly zone is a good idea for America.
                Raddatz was clearly not objective.  She did not necessarily consider the pros and cons of the no-fly zone from Libyan and American perspectives.  Yes, for the United States this would cost a ton of money and only further the perception that American is the world’s policeman.  For Libya, the no-fly zone would only help the people.  Raddatz does, however, do a good job of presenting these stumbling blocks in the way of getting the no-fly zone up and running.  These hard facts are good for the media to deal with and the American public to hear.