Thanks With an Asterisk

At the first Thanksgiving, the Fear Factors were sickness and disease, and the Amazing Race was to settle a New World. But like those first settlers, and probably like most of you today, this year we give thanks not only for the good that came our way but for the bad that wasn't as bad as it could have been.

For starters, we recognize that the power of television to educate, inform and entertain has never been more awesome, even if it often disappoints.

Television doesn't happen by magic. The medium needs healthy helpings of creativity and artistic freedom, so we are thankful that broadcasters and others have finally started to fight the indecency zealots.

We've always been thankful for the First Amendment, and we're encouraged some in the media business have summoned up the courage to stand up for their rights, too. We're grateful to Viacom for its strong rebuke of the FCC over the Janet Jackson fine.

The commission's prudery and intolerance are one of the biggest disappointments of this or any other season. Shame on Michael Powell for letting the FCC indecency crusade happen on his watch. Will towel-dropping Nicollette Sheridan be the next victim of the indecency witch hunt? We hope not.

Remarkably, in a threatening environment, the fall broadcast season has produced a few new shows that not only are full of fresh ideas but are succeeding. Desperate Housewives and Lost are clicking, on ABC no less. Cable, likewise, has not seemed shy about risk-taking. Take a look at Nip/Tuck, for example. As always, HBO provides. With Deadwood it even revived the Western. We're hopeful, too: It's still not too late for viewers to discover Fox's Arrested Development.

Comedy Central's Daily Show With Jon Stewart—nightly satire and insightful humor—was a high point this year. It allowed us to get away from dumbed-down campaign coverage by cable's news networks.

In this hotly contested election, there was a lot of shouting but a lack of distinguished news judgment. The TV news business, particularly on cable, wasted time with the Swift Boat “controversy,” and CBS squandered credibility with a monumental 60 Minutes mistake that Dan Rather tried—badly—to explain away. Sinclair Broadcasting wouldn't run ABC's Nightline the evening Ted Koppel devoted the half-hour to reading the names of the war dead. We're not thankful about any of that.

But most of all, our support goes to the journalists under figurative siege for protecting sources, and our gratitude is extended to the brave journalists under literal siege in Iraq, trying to give us an accurate picture of that war. They deserve our thanks and respect, as do the troops caught in a very dangerous situation.