Itís almost impossible for anyone to keep complete track of national and world news. But itís still fun to stick oneís toes into the swirling stream and watch the major events and trends passing by. For an hour or so each day I sit with my TV, remote in hand, and tap into a half-dozen news outlets.
A capsule opportunity to review the dayís top news stories comes at 6:30 p.m., when CBS, ABC and NBC air what they believe are the biggies. Often their judgments coincide. As I click from one channel to the next I find that all three networks tend to agree on which event rates top coverage. Viewers should keep in mind that a primary concern of news networks is ratings, i.e., which story will pull in the most viewers. If Russia declared war on China, that event might play second fiddle to Tom Cruiseís decision to renounce Scientology and become a Mormon. During the day, I tend to boot up CNN more often than other news networks. You canít go wrong with an outfit whose chief anchor is named Wolf Blitzer. (I wish I had a glamorous first name like Wolf. Or Rock.) As I recall, Wolf hit the big time when western forces overwhelmed Kuwait. Today he shares the CNN limelight with Anderson Cooper, Jake Tapper, Gloria Borger, Dana Bash, Barbara Starr, Candy Crowley and other journalists who strike me as reliably middle of the road.
A few weeks ago CNN did us all a big favor by removing a stuffy Brit anchor named Piers Morgan. I apologize to you if my comments in this column are more judgmental and subjective than they might otherwise be. Journalists should be measured mostly by their professional performance; the fact remains that TV news presentation has a show-biz element that canít be ignored. Another muddying factor is that, when an anchor pronounces the news, we donít know whether he/she is an experienced newsperson or simply a mouthpiece uttering words skillfully written off-camera by a bona fide news pro.
Holding down the right corner of the TV news picture is Fox News, whose daily reports are dominated by one obvious fact: most of their people are really ticked off at that Muslim-Kenyan in the White House, and they wonít be happy until heís blamed for everything from the 1929 stock market crash to the 1883 eruption of Krakatau. A daily Fox highlight is an afternoon talk show called The Five, in which a quintet of lesser-known lightweights laugh at their own jokes and trade thoughts on politics and the passing parade.
If Fox is biased toward the conservative viewpoint, itís no more unbalanced in its outlook than MSNBC, which leans far to the left. Itís fun to watch the excitable Chris Matthewsí thought processes get ahead of his tongueís ability to express them. Itís also a pleasure to see the veteran Andrea Mitchell at work. She sets forth the news without tipping toward either the left or right. One of the few African-Americans youíll see in a prominent slot giving the news is MSNBCís Joy Reid. Each night the knowledgeable and opinionated Rachel Maddow attempts to utter a greater number of words-per-hour than she did the night before. She often succeeds.
Iíve only recently discovered Al Jazeera America, but I like what I see. Iím a fan of straightforward, unemotional reporting, and AJA seems to give that. People in oil-rich Qatar own it. Should we therefore expect to see Islamic viewpoints creep into the news reports? If so, I havenít yet detected them. AJA has about 70 bureaus throughout the globe. One of their chief assets is Ray Suarez, formerly a first-class news reporter with PBS.
The daily PBS New Hour will never win a Pulitzer for dramatic presentation of news, but it will leave you with a sense of grasping each dayís significant happenings. In PBSís early history, Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer set a tone of thoughtful, dispassionate discussion of news events. Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill and Margaret Warner have carried on that tradition.
Over at the British Broadcasting Company, Catty Cay and her colleagues render the news in the most calm and collected manner imaginable. Some anchors and newsreaders are obviously intent on selling their own personalities, as well as the daily news. At BBC, thatís not the case. Their staffers donít much care whether or not their viewers love them. Itís the news that matters, not the charm ratings.
Speaking of charm, itís gratifying to see that many, if not most, of the persons delivering the news today are women. There may still be a glass ceiling for women in todayís newsgathering, but if so it seems to be cracking.