Not that I'm eager to point this out, but I'm old enough to remember television news coverage of the Vietnam War. It was the brutal scenes presented in the nightly network news that first awoke the nation to the horrors and atrocities of the war -- those imposed both by and on our troops. And it was Walter Cronkite's shocking opposition to the war on the CBS Nightly News that was the catalyst that turned college protests into a mass middle-America uprising and forced the government to begin withdrawal and admit ignoble defeat.
In the 1970s, there were just the three nightly newscasts, but it feels like they had far more impact on society and attitudes than all the news we have today. Is it that news has lost its gravitas? Is there so much coverage of the war in Iraq that we have become desensitized to the daily reports? Has the reporting changed to elevate news about Anna Nicole, Paris, and Angelina to equal -- if not greater -- importance than news of deaths and injuries to our soldiers and the destruction of a country? On Wednesday, the day Al Gore met with Congressional committees to discuss issues of global warming and the day more soldiers were being killed in Iraq, the dominant news stories were Angelina Jolie's newly adopted Vietnamese son, Pax, and the paternity hearings on Anna Nicole's child.
My colleague, Jacki Garfinkel, reported yesterday at MediaVillage.com on Richard Engel's "War Zone Diary" on MSNBC. She wrote, "The images were shocking, disturbing, upsetting, dreadful, and the entire message of it would bring anyone back to the reality of what's going on across the ocean. "
Engel has spent four years in Iraq. Why would he stay? To bring the news of what's really going on over there to us over here. Garfinkel asks "Why isn't this what we see on TV every day? Sure it's depressing, but maybe then people (including myself) would stop and think a little bit more often about our soldiers and the innocent people being injured and dying. When our country is at war, why are Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith all we see on the news?
I understand ratings and I understand advertising dollars. I respect great advertising. I recognize that Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith bring in viewers. No one wants to watch upsetting, disheartening news all day. But you know what? Maybe we need to. Maybe we need to realize that Britney Spears is really the least significant thing in our world, especially when you compare her to the importance of any one of our soldiers. Why can't our advertisers stand up and for one day let a network air the real news? Imagine if advertising agencies and their clients banded together and said, 'We'll give a news network all the money they need to air the real news, commercial free for one week.'"
Garfinkel proposed a radical idea for a viewer boycott of pop culture news: "Reporters are risking their lives to bring us the news; let's show them that means something. So, I not only ask advertisers to do their part, but I ask all viewers to turn off the TV (or switch channels) the next time CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News talk about the latest celebreality. Demand better. Demand the news."
What do you think? Do you support a viewer boycott of puff-piece news? When Britney, Brangelina, Anna Nicole, Kevin, Jay Z, Puff Daddy, Paris, Nicole and Joe Francis show up on the screen, will you turn them off?