This week, “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” has its final shot at winning the objectivity competition.
This story deals with the recent incident in which a tear in the metal of a Boeing 737 opened up during a Southwest Airlines flight and the reactions by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Boeing, and Southwest. Anchor Katie Couric begins this report by reminding the viewer of the events of Southwest flight 812. She speaks of how the FAA will be conducting more stringent checks on 737s. Southwest is currently inspecting its fleet of 737s and has found cracks in three other planes, while “57 of the 79 grounded have passed inspection.” Reporter Don Teague then takes over the report. Teague begins his portion by giving a harrowing account of the tear in the fuselage of Flight 812. He speaks of how the passengers heard what sounded like a “gunshot” and then had to make use of the plane’s oxygen masks. Teague makes note of how the pilots had to dive from 36,000 feet to a more steady elevation of 11,000 feet in a matter of four minutes and thirty seconds. The altitude caused two people to faint. Teague then speaks of why the flight may have experienced this tear. He talks about “metal fatigue” in the lap joints of planes with more than 30,000 takeoffs and landings. The fatigue is caused by the constant changes in air pressure. Teague closes his report by mentioning past Southwest plane failures and commenting on how Boeing and Southwest will continue testing to avoid further problems.
Couric and Teague keep this report fairly objective. Nowhere do they place blame or even speculate as to why this event happened, beyond the scientific explanation. This stance is a welcome change to the usually polarizing placements of culpability. Couric points out that the FAA mandated the inspections and that Southwest and Boeing have been more than willing to comply. It is good to see that the structure in place is working. Teague reports mainly straight facts, with very little opinion or any coloring. He does include some sound bites from experts and transportation officials on why the hole was formed and also interviews one of the passengers, but beyond those doses of outside influence, Teague provides a crystal clear description of why the incident happened and how the pilots reacted. My only criticism would be that the main focus is on Southwest, yet Boeing is the company that made the plane. I feel that they should be receiving equal scrutiny. However, Southwest grounding flights makes for a better story.
This report is about how the Obama administration has changed its mind on where 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other detainees will be tried. Couric begins the story by saying that “a lot of people thought it was a bad idea” to hold trials of the five terrorists in New York City. She mentions how security could have cost over one billion dollars. Couric sends the report off to justice correspondent Bob Orr with the statement that the Obama administration has decided to hold the court proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with a military tribunal. Orr starts by saying that Attorney General Eric Holder is the person most displeased by this decision. A sound bite of Holder expressing his discontent follows. Orr then mentions how Congress, “bowing to public pressure,” barred transfer of the prisoners to the United States. The impact this decision has on families of 9/11 victims is then mentioned. Next, Orr focuses on how Mohammed has been treated while at Guantanamo Bay. A graphic of waterboarding is shown along with statistics about how many times Mohammed went through this process. The report ends with Orr mentioning how Mohammed has expressed a desire for the death penalty in the past. No word on whether or not the tribunal will seek the death penalty has been given.
There is a striking amount of bias in this report. First, the comment about a “lot of people” thinking the location of the trials to be a bad idea somewhat underplays the drama that took place when Holder announced the plans to try Mohammed in New York. This statement seems to be CBS wishing to sweep that unsavory tidbit under the rug in order to push out a more favorable look for the Obama administration. Second, the graphic about waterboarding is totally irrelevant to the story. This report deals with a trial of confessed terrorists, not with the legitimacy of torture as an interrogation technique or even the question of whether or not waterboarding is torture. That segment is meant to distract from the White House’s policy switch and stir emotions which are not connected to the matter at hand. On the good side of things, Orr does mention why Mohammed wants to be put to death: in order to be a martyr for Al Qaeda. Hopefully, the tribunal realizes this and will give appropriate punishment. I found balance in the report when Orr includes the fact that this reversal almost cements the continuation of operations at Guantanamo Bay, further hindering (or negating) President Obama’s promise to close down the detention facility.