The Unbearable Lightness of Network News

The Unbearable Lightness of Network News
by L. Brent Bozell III
June 5, 1997

The wine-and-brie set in the liberal media (predictably) are blustering against CBS for plucking Susan Molinari out of Congress to anchor its Saturday morning news show. But a look at the program CBS is considering as a model - NBC's Saturday Today show - demonstrates how unnecessary is this panic.

NBC doesn't bother co-hosts with news reading. They play a different role, making transitions from news to weather to commercials, and hosting the interview segments. How political is the Saturday morning show? Let's focus on Today's interview segments on May 17, which traveled very quickly from hard news to soft:

1. Kelly Flinn's struggle not to be discharged for lying to the Air Force.

2. A coast-to-coast manhunt for a suspected gay serial killer.

3. A nationwide walk-a-thon for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

4. A Prevention magazine survey showing about 90 million people report having pain in the last two weeks.

5. National Emergency Medical Services Week.

6. A marriage therapist on "Marriage: Myth or Reality?"

7. Cooking with Wayne Harley Brachman.

8. How to slim down for summer.

9. Prom season fashions.

10. A 13-year-old pianist.

(Reviewing that list, a better question arises: why would Molinari want this job?)

Which one of these segments would Molinari ruin with a Republican spin, whatever that is these days? Take the first item. To give the conservative read on Flinn would require an attack on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. To defend Lott is to betray conservative principles. The same scenario plays out with a host of other current issues, from the budget, to chemical weapons, to MFN for China. Just what agenda do liberals fear Molinari would pursue?

Let's move on to the second item: What do liberals fear, that Molinari would champion the case of the gay serial killer? As to the rest of the show, it's so light it's surprising the television doesn't levitate.

On Saturday, May 31, the Today show had a wealth of political stories to run from the nation's top news outlets. Washington Times reporter Jerry Seper found the Clinton Commerce Department, accused of using foreign trade mission to build its donor lists, "kept a list of confidential donors to the Democratic National Committee, despite earlier denials that the documents existed." That's more stonewalling uncovered by The the ongoing lawsuit against the Commerce Department by Judicial Watch.

The Times also printed an Associated Press report that Peter Knight, a lobbyist who ran the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign, "arranged numerous private meetings and dinners with a top Energy Department official for clients who won millions of dollars in government contracts, documents show...On more than one occasion, Mr. Knight's clients made large donations to the Democratic Party or to Mr. Clinton around the time the department made decisions favorable to them." Did Today cover these developments? No, although Bob Kur's news updates did twice include the massive mobilization of police forces to protect Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor from a delivery of tennis shoes.

Today's May 31 interview segments were somewhat weightier, with co-host Jack Ford in Denver for three interviews on the Oklahoma City bombing trial. But the other topics were, in order: the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; TV actress Kim Coles promoting her book on dating and her off-Broadway show; an environmentalist author celebrating the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park; the Intel science and engineering fair; a "Focus on Friends" segment on children's friends; Road and Track magazine promoting a classic auto show/fashion show; bathing suit fashions; a Leanza Cornett report on two new romantic comedies; and cooking with Bill Wavrin.

Don't get me wrong here. It's not that the network morning shows aren't living up to the standards of the evening shows - they're just as bad, if not worse. In April, the Big Three evening "newscasts" aired only 13 full reports and 6 anchor briefs combined on the fundraising scandals. NBC News Lite filed only one report and one anchor brief - for the entire month!

One reason the networks might have ignored these new scoops is continuity: how can you explain a development in a complex story like the Judicial Watch lawsuit against the Commerce Department if you've ignored the story from the beginning, never attempting to build it from the ground up? The networks have made no attempt to take three minutes and explain the complex story lines. While these investigations focus for years on possible criminal activity in the White House, the networks glibly fill their airwaves with O.J., JonBenet, Ennis Cosby, and the scandal of fat-free potato chips.

So let's hope CBS is sending the right signal with the hiring of Susan Molinari. Heck, I'll take anyone who understands there's some pretty serious stuff still going on in Washington. It's called news.