When Good Newscasts Go Bad

I like NBC Nightly News. I like Brokaw’s anchoring style. It’s not that I don’t like Peter Jennings or Dan Rather or even Jim Lehrer, I just like Brokaw better.

It probably has to do with Brokaw’s “calming force,’” which just makes me feel better about the world at large. “What ‘calming force’?” you may be asking. The one that NBC promotes on the NBC News website: “NBC Nightly News takes viewers to the heart of a breaking new story, whether it’s political, international, or domestic coverage. Anchor and managing editor Tom Brokaw provides a calming force.”

Well thank goodness for that calming force. In these troubled times, I need to be calmed down when watching network news.

Here’s an example that made me feel better about the world...really:

We all know about the terrible earthquake that demolished Bam, Iran. As of this writing there are 30,000 dead. That number might rise to 35,000. We also know about the humanitarian effort from the international community that has come to Iran’s aid.

Part of that humanitarian effort came from the United States. We’re helping our arch rival (at least our arch rival since the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979) because humanitarian concerns outweigh political policy.

On December 30, NBC Nightly News teased a package on how the humanitarian effort could lead to improved relations between Iran and the U.S. I watched the package and I felt better about the world—Iran and the U.S. could be getting closer diplomatically. The U.S. threw politics aside to help the Iranians. This was a major step toward improved relations between the two countries. As 2003 ended, it felt like the world would be a slightly better place.

But as Paul Harvey would say...“Now...the rest of the story...”

Seems that same day, as I would read later in my local newspaper, Islamic Republic of Iran president Mohammad Khatami said, “I do not think that Iran-U.S. relations will be resolved because of the quake. There has to be a fundamental change in the U.S. behavior toward the Iranian government and people. The humanitarian and political issues should not be mixed...we have not seen good will from the U.S.”

Ok, fair enough, but what the hell was NBC News thinking? The president of Iran, who might have some idea of his country’s policy toward the U.S., said that humanitarian aid will not help Iran-U.S. relations. Was NBC News blind? Did they not get a report about what Iran’s president said to the press?

Want to know who did get the story right? Whose website carried the headline: “Iranian President downplays thaw in U.S. relations?” Whose story lead with “Iranian President Mohammad Khatami says there will be no dialogue with the U.S. unless Washington radically changes its policy toward Iran?”

ABC News Online. No not that ABC News. The other ABC News. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ABC News. (For the record, I’m sure other news organizations had the story right as well, heck, all the information you needed was on the website of the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran at www.president.ir...in English.)

Of course, once I had read what the president of Iran had said, I no longer felt the calming force of Brokaw. What I felt was anger, directed at Brokaw and NBC News. The trust was gone.

You want to calm me...fine. But don’t mislead me and don’t hype whatever you think people want to hear. I’ll be giving Lehrer another shot. What about Jennings and Rather? They’ll get their shot too, but not during sweeps. I can live without the hype on network news.