They Shoot News Anchors: Part II | Deadline Hollywood | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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They Shoot News Anchors: Part II 

Media moguls, not looters, killed Katrina’s truth tellers

Thursday, Sep 15 2005
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At first, only CNN appeared not to have thoroughly read the proverbial memo. It was the only network, on air and on its Web site, to compare and contrast the wildly contradictory statements by federal, state and local officials, sometimes within hours, but often within minutes of each other. It was CNN that posted the first full transcript of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s profanity- and passion-filled September 2 interview on local radio. It was also CNN that first exposed the gruesome nature of the conditions at the Superdome, at the convention center and in the hospital corridors. Its broadcasters were the first to keep a heart-wrenching online blog during Katrina. Even as late as September 6, political correspondent Ed Henry was the first to counter the claims by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay that local officials and not the feds were to blame, by reporting that congressional Republicans, in a secret confab, were giving the Bush administration a big fat F. Then the fix was in.

 

On September 8, CNN anchorette Kyra Phillips was chewing into House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for “continuing to criticize the administration, and criticize the director of FEMA... I think it’s unfair that FEMA is just singled out. There are so many people responsible for what has happened in the state of Louisiana.”

Instead of smiling through clenched teeth, the San Francisco Democrat bit back: “I’m sorry that you think it’s unfair. But I don’t . . . If you want to make a case for the White House, you should go on their payroll.”

By September 12, even the White House admitted that FEMA had been its own disaster area by pushing out its Arabian-horseman-turned-jackass head, Michael Brown. (Bush finally admitted on Tuesday that the buck was going to stop with him whether he liked it or not. “To the extent the federal government didn’t fully do its job right, I take responsibility,” he said.) That same day, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, announced the hiring of DeLay’s chief of staff as a top Washington lobbyist. This news, and its timing, prompted Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy to tell the L.A. Weekly: “Time Warner aligning itself with the right-wing DeLay machine should send shudders [down] CNN and HBO. Clearly, TW wants DeLay insurance so it won’t have to face cable-ownership safeguards, à la carte rules and broadband non-discrimination policies.”

>For the first 120 hours after Hurricane Katrina, TV journalists were let off their leashes by their mogul owners, the result of a rare conjoining of flawless timing (summer’s biggest vacation week) and foulest tragedy (America’s worst natural disaster). All of a sudden, broadcasters narrated disturbing images of the poor, the minority, the aged, the sick and the dead, and discussed complex issues like poverty, race, class, infirmity and ecology that never make it on the air in this swift-boat/anti-gay-marriage/Michael Jackson media-sideshow era. So began a perfect storm of controversy.

Contrary to the scripture so often quoted in these areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, the TV newscasters knew the truth, but the truth did not set them free. Because once the crisis point had passed, most TV journalists went back to business-as-usual, their choke chains yanked by no-longer-inattentive parent-company bosses who, fearful of fallout from fingering Dubya for the FEMA fuckups, decided yet again to sacrifice community need for corporate greed. Too quickly, Katrina’s wake was spun into a web of deceit by the Bush administration, then disseminated by the Big Media boys’ club. (Karl Rove spent the post-hurricane weekend conjuring up ways to shift blame.)

If big media look like they’re propping up W’s presidency, they are. Because doing so is good for corporate coffers — in the form of government contracts, billion-dollar tax breaks, regulatory relaxations and security favors. At least that wily old codger Sumner Redstone, head of Viacom, parent company of CBS, has admitted what everyone already knows is true: that, while he personally may be a Democrat, “It happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.”

When it comes to NBC’s parent company, GE’s No. 1 and No. 2, Jeffrey Immelt and Bob Wright, are avowed Republicans, as are Time Warner’s Dick Parsons (CNN) and News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch (Fox News Channel). (Forget that Murdoch’s No. 2, Peter Chernin, and Redstone’s co–No. 2, Les Moonves, are avowed Democrats — it’s meaningless because Murdoch and Redstone are the owners.)

Once upon a time, large corporations and their executives typically avoided any public discussion of their politics because partisan positions alienated customers and employees. But all of that changed after GE bought NBC in 1986. For seemingly eons, Immelt’s predecessor, the legendary Jack Welch, was a rabid right-winger who boasted openly about helping turn former liberals Chris Matthews and Tim Russert into neocons. (And Los Angeles Representative Henry Waxman is still waiting for GE to turn over those in-house tapes that would prove once and for all whether Welch, in 2000, ordered his network and cable stations to reverse course and call the election for Bush instead of Gore.)

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