Dear Tom Brokaw:
Shut up and be a journalist.
– The staff of the Daily Nexus.
Tom Brokaw closed the Oct. 15 broadcast of the NBC “Nightly News” by holding up a bottle of antibiotics and saying, “In Cipro we trust.” His assistant had recently opened an anthrax-laced letter addressed to Brokaw, which caused health officials to evacuate the NBC News office. They put hundreds of NBC employees on Cipro, a powerful antibiotic, as a precaution.
Maybe they should have sedated Brokaw. He sent thousands of Americans scurrying to their doctors to demand antibiotics even though they weren’t sick. If Brokaw had any thoughts lurking beneath his immaculate hair, he would have realized that taking antibiotics unnecessarily breeds germs that can’t be killed by antibiotics.
Brokaw’s on-air freakout may have been an embarrassment, but it was a minor one compared to the gigantic embarrassment that’s been the American press since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
For a month and a half, America’s news anchors, reporters and pundits have fallen over each other in a frantic, drooling heap of credulity – usually in direct proportion to their salaries. There has been no rumor too unsubstantiated, no threat too shapeless and no white powder too benign as they’ve struggled to fill airtime and front pages with anything, anything at all.
Most of their coverage has been lazy: press conferences, official warnings and live reports from ships hundreds of miles from Afghanistan. Reporters have gravely repeated the words of White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer as if they were received wisdom instead of, at best, spun and fondled half-truths.
Right after the attacks, Fleischer claimed President Bush did not return to the White House immediately because they had reports that Air Force One and the White House were targets. There were no such reports. And yet, news anchors went on national television and suggested the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania had been headed for the President.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that a raid into Afghanistan had captured vital intelligence documents. It was reported as such. It turns out the computer disks seized by Special Forces contained plastic disks and not much else.
When the anthrax scare hit, cable news networks competed with each other for handwriting analysts. The analysts were to provide insights into who the terrorists might be, even though handwriting analysis is about as credible as phrenology.
When Osama bin Laden released a statement, the press agreed not to show it because the White House said it might contain secret messages. Never mind that Bin Laden ran a terrorist network for years without CNN.
Meanwhile, Congress passed a bill which gives law enforcement unprecedented powers to wiretap and search Americans. The press made hardly a peep.
It’s a sad day when the most skeptical news sources in America are Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and the online humor magazine The Onion.