What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

From Iraq………

Elizabeth Vargas - who along with Bob Woodruff has been selected to fill the enormously large reportorial shoes left by the late Peter Jennings, was in Iraq recently, co-anchoring the ABC World News Tonight program from there. A few days ago she did a special piece - an interview with a group of American servicemen and women about how they viewed their mission . I’ve always thought of Vargas as a serious news person and I was truly astonished to see that kind of report as part of the evening newscast. Not that a news anchor shouldn’t report on how service people that he or she interviews view their mission - promising them anonymity - as would any good print reporter wanting to get unvarnished truths. But to put a group before a camera and ask them to tell the American people how they think things are going in Iraq is something quite different.

It was exactly as expected. I would have staked my life on what the group of service people would say. They were all positive and proud of what they were doing. The mission was "nation building" - though no one used that term. But there were none in the group who even looked as though they had a critical thought in their head about what they were doing there and how their mission was going.

Surely Vargas knew that the only comments she was going to get from any military personnel willing to do an interview that would be broadcast coast to coast - very likely personnel who had been given permission to do such an interview - and almost certainly to be viewed by military brass - would be little more than echoes of the President’s rosy assessment of the mission and it’s progress. One has to wonder - was she taken in or a willing participant in a charade?

I’m not saying that the men and women in the group weren’t sincere in their comments. When you’re putting your life on the line every day, it helps to believe that what you’re doing is noble and worth while. But not everyone over there or who has been fortunate enough to come back in one piece thinks that way and what I’m saying is that any military personnel who would openly criticize the mission while they were still on duty - who would suggest that they were there under false pretenses, would very likely be committing military career suicide - and they’re not going to make themselves available for an ABC World News interview with Elizabeth Vargas. Nor would military brass give permission for a network interview where they knew the interviewees would be critical of their mission.

So for Vargas to present this kind of set piece as part of the news - indeed as news was in my view somewhat out of place. It might have pleased the people who complain that not enough "good" news gets reported out of Iraq but it was almost as disturbing an image to me as was the rehearsal of the President’s "spontaneous" dialog with troops in Iraq in October.

And Chicago…….

Of Whom Dick The Butcher Spoke?? ( King Henry the Sixth, Part Two)

.The accident at Midway Airport in Chicago that resulted in the tragic death of a six year old child who had the misfortune to be in one of two cars that were struck by a Southwest Airlines plane that broke through a barrier and into the street December 8, is under investigation by the National Transportation Board. Preliminary findings indicate that one of the causes could be attributed to where the plane touched down on the short runway, leaving very little room in slippery conditions form the brakes to bring the aircraft to a stop.

The investigation is far from over and there will be many factors that the NTSB will consider before issuing a final report.

But for several days after the accident, television news programs brought us the image of the dead child’s "family attorney" asserting that the accident was totally a case of pilot error - comparing it to a car being driven too fast for conditions and quoting the family as saying that Southwest Airlines murdered the child.

The words weren’t spoken but you could hear them between the lines just as you can often read unspoken statements between the lines of what appears in print. There’s going to be a lawsuit. Probably an open and shut lawsuit that will be settled without a trial. There’ll be big bucks and I get one third!!!

Why else would a "family attorney" be making any kind of statement for the television camera and microphones? He has nothing to offer in the way of information - perhaps other than to state the obvious - that the family of the dead child is grieving. For that matter, why on earth would the television stations even put this guy on the air with his accusative statements when the NTSB investigation is in its infancy?

It’s bad enough that this attorney is acting like the model for every attorney joke ever written by trying to assign culpability in advance of an investigation. There’s no excuse for the broadcast media accommodating his efforts to lay the groundwork for the inevitable law suit.