COMMENTS: Standing Ovation

Both CBS and NBC brought us television news about television: NBC's In Depth report by Andrea Mitchell concerned controversy; CBS' closer from Hollywood by Bill Whitaker was heartwarming.

Mitchell told us about al-Hurra TV, the Arab-language network funded by the State Department that is "supposed to make friends for America." Yet last December the channel ran an hour long "unchallenged" anti-Israel speech by Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah, the leader of Hezbollah. Then it covered a "rant against the Holocaust" by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran "without real criticism." Mitchell checked who was in charge: the State Department's head of public diplomacy Karen Hughes told her that al-Hurra is "editorially independent;" the network's manager Kenneth Tomlinson--who is "well-connected politically to Karl Rove"--told Mitchell that his own programming was "inexcusable" but that he was unable to obtain videotape copies of what went on air. Mitchell concluded: "Tomlinson has been forced out. His successor takes over next week."

CBS celebrated its own celebrity, Bob Barker, the host of the gameshow The Price is Right, who is hanging up his microphone after giving away stuff, more than $600m in prizes, since 1972. Whitaker wondered what Barker will miss most. The silver haired host answered with a rhetorical question: "How many 83-year-old men get up every morning knowing that that day they are going to have a standing ovation?"

UPDATE: upon reflection, NBC's Mitchell appears to be jumping to conclusions when she implies that a failure to challenge Sheikh Nasrullah's criticism of Israel is an act of anti-American broadcasting. Israel may be an ally of the United States but its interests and US interests are not identical. Surely Mitchell does not think that it is job of the State Department's Arabic TV network, when covering speeches by regional political leaders, to file a "challenge" any time sentiments are aired that are critical of Israel? If so, its programming would consist of little else.

FURTHER UPDATE: Matthew Felling (text link) at the CBS blog Public Eye opines on al-Hurra TV. He downplays the controversy surrounding the two individual broadcasts that NBC's Mitchell mentioned--the Hezbollah speech and the Holocaust conference--noting that "insufficiently skeptical" is a "tough characterization to pin down" and that it is the duty of al-Hurra TV to "reflect the sensibilities and culture of its target audience."

Rather than criticizing al-Hurra's editorial content he zeroes in on its management. "Most importantly," he declares, "require that all supervisors of on-air content speak Arabic." If Mitchell's piece on NBC is to be believed, the station's managers cannot obtain videotape of their own programming. If Felling's post is true, some of the station's supervisors cannot understand what is being broadcast. What sort of operation is this that the State Department is running?


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