Broadcast news has sunk to an “instantaneous-gratification, reality-TV scenario” complained Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who oversees the broadcast industry as chairman of the House Commerce Committee.
Barton caused alarm in the TV news biz last week after threatening hearings on Dan Rather’s National Guard document fiasco. “It’s going to be fair and balanced,” quipped the Texas Republican stealing the tag line of Fox News.
Barton offered some strong opinions on the state of TV news to a television technology trade group. Barton thinks the 60 Minutes debacle might be emblematic of loose standards across the business and suggested congressional scrutiny might be part of a solution.
One question Barton wants answered: Why does CBS let Rather serve as his own managing editor? There was “no safety valve” to prevent Rather from infusing his opinions into news stories.
Barton suspects the same is true at other nets. “If somebody wants to broadcast to every American an opinion, you have the right to do that. Rush Limbaugh does that every day. But if you’re going to proclaim it is the news.... then there needs to be real safeguards, : said, adding that in TV today, the checks on reporters aren’t strong enough. “If it’s close enough,” anchors “go with it and see what sticks,” he said.
He suggested that perhaps too many television reporters didn’t get their start in newspapers, or as he put it--“real journalism.” Print editing, he surmised, is much more thorough.
What happens if lawmakers think network news needs a clean up? Barton insisted Congress won’t pass any restrictions on U.S. media, but did offer the ominous image of Russia, where station owners who anger the government must hire “armed guards or pay a big bribe” to stay on the air. “We certainly don’t want that.”
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