Anchors weigh 9/11

Newscasts let viewers down, Rather says

There were some unexpected mea culpas Monday at a news anchor confab about how television news has covered 9/11.

Hosted by Fordham University and organized by NATAS, the hour-long panel featured “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather, “NBC Dateline” anchor Jane Pauley and CNN “NewsNight” host Aaron Brown.

The first and most salient question posed by moderator and former Eye D.C. bureau chief Bill Small was pointed: why Americans don’t trust news orgs as much as they did the heady first weeks after 9/11.

Citing a recent general decline in popularity for figures of authority, Pauley replied that “the American people are in a cranky mood.”

Brown, on the other hand, observed that viewers first turned to the screen for comfort after the terrorist attacks on American soil, but now they see journalists as they were before. “We will make people uncomfortable. That’s what we do.”

Rather, however, took a more self-condemning position. “We said that we’d be more serious, that there would be more international coverage and less sleazing down, and we’ve gone back.”

Blaming himself as well, he also observed that newsies were “self-congratulatory” and stressed that for journos “it is the height of patriotism to suck it up and ask the hard questions.”

“Rather than jumping on the Defense Department and the White House [for not giving access], we should be asking why we haven’t lived up to our own responsibility.”

On a lighter night, Pauley complained about CNN’s relentless crawl, or the news ticker that runs under a talking head. She claimed that it was distracting and gives the “impression of urgency that never stops.”

Brown, for his part, seemed somewhat repentant. “I would be happier if they went away,” he conceded, but then, in a deft and light deflection, turned the heat back to Pauley. “Now let’s talk about Dateline’s ‘Questions of the Week.'”

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