The Air Line Pilots Association said last week it was "appalled and outraged" that ABC chose to air the sounds of the struggle in the cockpit of Flight 93. The association recognized that it had no legal quarrel but felt that the airing was "repugnant sensationalism masquerading as news." We disagree. According to ABC, senior news executives deliberated, contacted the pilots' families beforehand, decided to limit subsequent use of the tape, then chose to air it as the historical record of an act of war against the U.S., which it was. That ABC was the first network to formally limit airings of the Sept. 11 attacks argues for that explanation.
Airing awful, frightening, disturbing realities is part of what broadcast journalists do. The message the terrorists sent about their disregard for life was repugnant, but it was a warning this country needs to hear. Arguing, as the pilots did, that a transcript served the same purpose is like arguing that a newspaper article about Vietnam had the same impact as video from the front. Don't blame the messenger.
Broadcasting and cable are going to be OK, although sometimes it doesn't feel that way these days. It's a tough holiday season for the people laid off from scores of traditional media companies and even more dotcoms. It's tough for convention organizers suffering the fallout from canceled or scaled-back shows. It's tough for most advertising-driven media at a time when the trickle-down from tight marketing budgets sometimes doesn't reach that far. And, yes, it's even tough for a lot of media executives who missed making budget by a mile and have to make hard choices involving good people.
But, as Sept. 11 made clear, that is all just stuff to deal with, "tough" only in a "kiss the ground that this is still your definition of tough" sense of the word.
The media business is fundamentally sound. It's still a license to print money, as we point out elsewhere in this issue, only the denominations have gotten smaller. But far more important to the health of the nation, it is still a license to inform and entertain at a time when both are particularly important, and those still engaged in that enterprise, no matter the current hurdles, can count themselves lucky.
Yes, the digital must-carry battle between broadcasting and cable is important. Yes, the all-carry battle between broadcasting and satellite is important. Yes, the battle between Michael Copps and ABC over the clothing-optional Victoria's Secret infomercial is important (OK. No, it isn't). But this is all just stuff to deal with.
When we're carving off the last bits of turkey for sandwiches this week, we'll split a wishbone with ourselves and ask for no tougher times than a down economy and a cornucopia of industry issues to deal with.
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