April 24, 2003

Rant

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And maybe you do, too. But, why am I writing about news reporters in the arts and entertainment section, a section devoted to reporting the dumb things that famous people do? Perhaps it’s because reporters, whose intelligence has never been in question, have now taken the liberty of making themselves famous as well.

And I don’t even have a T.V. So, a couple of days ago, as I was fulfilling my god-given right and responsibility as a soon-to-be unemployed yuppy aspirant — that is, listening to National Public Radio — I heard the following “plug.” It ran something like this: “Tomorrow on “Morning Edition,” an interview with Anne Garrels, one of the only Western reporters to remain in Baghdad throughout the war.” Cutaway to Anne’s voice, vaguely distraught yet (a little more than) vaguely self-satisfied: “I never meant to be a war correspondent. Really, I never did. But wars just kept happening. And happening. And HAPPENING.” Then: “An interview with Anne Garrels, from her home in Connecticut. That’s tomorrow, on Morning Edition.”

Since when has an interview with a reporter sitting in her pajamas in her upper-middle class neo-colonial Connecticut home deserved airtime? Since when has an interview with someone who’s supposed to cover the news become the news?

I realize that it’s not as though reporters haven’t ever been famous. But those were anchormen. Dan, Peter, Tom, and Walter before them, all as American as apple pie, all talking heads behind imposing desks who read off of teleprompters and let the field reporters handle the business of reporting — of collecting the information, conducting interviews, trying to get the whole story and inform their viewers. Besides, Walter and company became famous for a reason no more mysterious than that they became familiar faces. But they have never become the news. This habit of having reporters report on themselves and their own experience of the war, rather than on the people who actually live in the country, who will have to live and die with the results of this U.S liberation, is a much more recent and much more troubling trend.

I think it all started with the embedded reporter, a new feature added to the 2003 war model. These reporters were actually assigned to one and only one unit, or battalion, or division, or whatever (who can keep up?) and followed it around from the beginning of the war to its end. They rode around in tanks, ate army grub, slept in tents. They even got to wear helmets. So, who can blame Aaron Brown (I won’t poke fun, it’s just too easy) and other anchors when they decided to look upon these “embeds” as experts? After all, three networks had 24 hours to fill every day, and there are only so many retired generals to go around. (“What do you think about the 283,765 division’s march north, General Ogreman?” “Oh, it’s a great march, great strategy, Aaron.”) Reporters were in the middle of the action and at least gave the illusion of knowing what was going on. And so, almost imperceptibly, when they ran out of events to report, they fell into reporting on themselves and their daily struggles. The problem is, they are not Iraqi. Whatever hardships they had to undergo (What! No pay-per-view at the Palestine Hotel?), they always knew one thing: they had a comfy, first-world home waiting for them when their assignment was up.

Archived article by Maggie Frank

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