Did They Really Say That in 1997?

During the Desert Shield militareporter friend from Texas for drinks one evening. Asked how he way build-up in early '91, I joined a rs holding up under the pressure of round-the-clock coverage, he shook his head and smiled. "Think about it," he said. "Three weeks ago I was covering Dallas City Council races and today I'm covering Iraqi Scuds. What do I know about Iraqi Scuds? But I'm no more ignorant than the other 10,000 reporters covering this beat!"

How refreshing it was to hear him acknowledge the obvious. Sometimes reporters simply don't know what they're writing, or talking about. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them will never acknowledge the obvious, so this column will deal with some of their more inane utterances of 1997 to prove the point.

Some reporters are just hell-bent on finding dark clouds in any positive news. Take this beaut of a sulking headline in the New York Times on September 28: "Crime Keeps On Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling." Delete the "but" and insert an "as" and you've got a headline that makes sense. Keep it this way and you've got, well, the New York Times.

The opposite is also the case if it involves one of those pet causes so dear to the leftist press and which just won't go away, no matter how wrong-headed the impulse, or irrelevant the issue. Cuba is a classic case in point, and the media just can't stop fawning over Castro's Marxist ghetto. "Under Cuba's communist form of government," explained CBS This Morning co-host Jane Robelot on March 24, " a Cuban family's basic necessities - housing, education, health care, and transportation - are provided by the state for free or at very little cost." Which explains all those boat people leaving Miami for Havana, I suppose.

When reporters are unable to fathom the wretchedness of communism, they are genuinely puzzled to see its victims bolt for freedom. Back in February ABC's Peter Jennings was covering the defection of North Korean official Hwang Jang Yop. "In much of the world today, including Washington, governments and their diplomats are astonished still by the news that such a senior official should have defected from communist North Korea to the South," he announced before delivering this straight-faced whopper: "A diplomat in the Chinese capital Beijing said it was as if Thomas Jefferson had bolted from the young United States."

Sometimes it's just very difficult to figure out what wavelength some journalists are on. If you, dear reader, had the opportunity to ask His Holiness John Paul II one question, what would it be? Odds are that it wouldn't be Diane Sawyer's question, as she explained on the February 19 Oprah: "I've always thought the theological, the one theological question I'd like to ask him - and it's a very serious question - is, 'What do you think Jesus would think of the way you dress?'" And I bet your reaction to that Deep Thought was slightly different than Oprah's: "Ohhhh! That's a great question!"

Speaking of the zany, I challenge you to show me a more bizarre obituary that this jewel from the August 11 issue of Time magazine: "Died. William S. Burroughs, 83, novelist, cult figure, and perhaps the most audacious member of a Beat Generation trinity whose other two divinities were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg... His life was as extreme as the experimental fiction he pioneered, involving alcohol, heroin, homosexuality, a celebrated obscenity trial in Boston, and in 1951, his accidental killing of his wife while shooting a glass off the top of her head."

Finally, there's the proverbial Kodak Moment on television, when one debate participant rhetorically slam-dunks his opponent into oblivion. The February 12 ABC Viewpoint program was dedicated to a lively discussion over the Prime Time Live deceptive Food Lion Story. ABC News President Roone Arledge tried to defend his network's actions with a dramatic analogy- only to be disemboweled by Syracuse University Professor Robert Lissit:

Arledge: "If you were a reporter in World War II, and we all know the atrocities that went on in various countries during that war, and you heard about this and got yourself a job as a guard at a prison camp and you were able to tell the world everything that went on there, which they didn't know anything about? You got that job through deception. You're not a guard. You never intended to be a guard. Is there anybody here who thinks that's a bad thing for society?" Lissit: "Is there anybody here who wants to equate that with macaroni salad?" Ouch.