Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Despite all the free news on the Internet, at times I think cyberspace has been good for newspapers. For one thing, websites for TV stations make it all too clear how poorly sourced most TV stories are, even when good reporters are at work. There just isn't time to spell out who sources are, even if they exist. Other times, it seems that the internet hasn't changed anything, or at least not enough.
Last night I was watching NBC and saw a preview story about Jessica Lynch's return home today. The story had a classic theme: Residents in this sleepy little town are glad to have their girl back, but they are increasingly skeptical about an overseas war that appears to have no point and no end in sight. The reporter put interviews of four or five residents up on the screen, tossed in pro-war comments from a veteran for "balance," and the story was in the can.
For conservative critics, it was a classic case of liberal bias: A reporter with a pre-existing anti-war storyline went looking for sources who would it back up, threw them up on screen and got out of town. Maybe the critics are right. As always, other possibilities exist:
1. Maybe the people the reporter talked to really did represent an accurate cross-section of the people in Palestine, W.V. Of course, the only way he could know that was if he:
a. Talked to a whole bunch of people.
b. Conducted a scientific survey.
c. Talked to a few people with intimate knowledge of the community who could be dependably relied upon to know the sentiments of most people.
The report provided no evidence that he had done any of those things.
2. He could have been an anti-war reporter motivated by conservative bias. As I (and George Will) have argued before, all of the best anti-war arguments were conservative arguments.
3. He could have deliberately broadcast an unbalanced report in order to offset the unabashed, flag-waving hero worship that he knew would dominate network coverage today. Add the two days of coverage together, you see, and you get something approaching balance.
4. He could have been lazy or on deadline and just went looking for an easy story angle.
I placed my bet on No. 4. Today I went cruising the internet to look more closely at the text of the story to see if I could figure out whether I was right. Couldn't find the story anywhere. Could it have been broadcast on CBS? Couldn't find it there either. The story appears to have sunk without a trace.
That's why TV, even on the internet, still has an edge over newspapers.

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