Holy shit, Harold Evans got all relevant up in this piece! In his latest BBC radio broadcast, Sir Harry of Tina Brown's house tackles the sorry state of television news. Unfortunately, it had to take a viewing of the Edward-Murrow-glory-days movie Good Night and Good Luck to get Evans into fighting form, but we can't judge a man for being motivated by forces of Clooney-backed entertainment. After the jump, Henry the Intern does the happy dance.
Apparently it takes a George Clooney film for Harold Evans to get all mushy on us. In this case, it's a good thing. He used the bully pulpit of BBC Radio 4 to criticize the quality of television news in America. Here, here.
Evans saw "Good Night and Good Luck," Clooney's $8 million movie about CBS anchor Edward Murrow's stand against Senator Joe McCarthy's anti-Communist crusade in the fifties, and questioned how Morrow managed "to help bring down the most feared man in America at a time when all other broadcasters and most of the newspapers, were hiding under the bed - just as they were unquestioning, unsceptical, indeed gullible, in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq." Evans found the answer in the history books: Murrow's influential coverage of the London blitz, during which he "evoked admiration for Britain among millions of Americans."
CBS gave Murrow his own documentary series in 1951 which —as these things go— received critical acclaim but was pushed aside by the cheap thrills of television quiz shows. "The golden era of documentary television was over," said Evans. At the time, Murrow said television had surrendered to "decadence, escapism and insulation."
Today, Evans complained, both reporters and television bosses "succumb to the tyranny of numbers": "More concerned with advertising demographics than a functioning democracy, the networks blur the line between news and entertainment. Any time there's a celebrity crime or a missing blonde in California, the rest of America and the rest of the world vanishes from the screens." Well, unless there's a sexy tsunami or an Orange Alert in London.
Evans spent the second half of his ten-minute commentary criticizing the industry across the board: "In my view, the safe 'he-said, she- said, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other' style of journalism is an abdication of the journalist's responsibility to pin down the truth." Then he singled out CBS President Les Moonves for wanting "MTV-style" news: "On the other hand, Mr. Moonves, you could have television on television. One of the extraordinary things about network TV is how little news video they show, cutting back to cotton wool commentary."
Television on television sounds great, Harold, and there is a dearth of intelligent programming worth watching — especially since the loss of "Topic [A]" — but does it sell? As Tina Brown herself suggested to Moonves on "Topic [A]" in 2003, "News, obviously, is an area where you could, if you wanted, go a little edgier. I mean, would you ever consider doing something out of the box, like bringing aboard a Bill O'Reilly, a Jon Stewart, I mean, to kind of start to shake up the news field?"