Picks and Pans Review: The Flaps, the Fluff
THE GAFFS AND GOOFS
CBS' Dan Rather used to know his stuff. Now he speaks with astounding pomposity: "One of the things we want to do is...differentiate between the essence of reality and the agreed-upon appearance of things." He came up with some surprisingly naive statements—saying, for instance, that Jackson was forcing Mondale to "walk the plank" on the platform when, just below his nose, the opposite was happening.
Before ABC switched to its late-breaking Hart to Hart, Peter Jennings summed up the entire Democratic platform fight in precisely 60 seconds; in his hands, the issues of the day became a Trivial Pursuit question. The next night ABC's Brinkley did at last analyze the platform—in perhaps 90 seconds. He said that the Democrats blamed a too-big budget deficit on Reagan and also promised to help the poor. "But where," he asked, "will they get the money? Well, this question has not been asked, probably won't be." But that, Mr. Brinkley, is what you and your reporters are supposed to do: ask questions.
NBC's Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor did explain the platform and the fight over it, giving perspective to the moderate Mondale campaign. And in a short but thoughtful feature, NBC visited a breadline near Moscone Center, comparing it to one near a 1980 convention hall in an effort to see how poorly the poor are doing these days.
But NBC, like ABC and CBS, failed to go out and ask questions, or hard ones anyway. Brinkley's question does deserve an answer. The deficit mess is, all anchors agreed, the major issue so far. But what does each side propose to do about it? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What sacrifices do they demand? These can't be answered by sticking a microphone in the face of a delegate wearing a silly hat or summed up in 60 seconds with a "back to you, Dan." But they could be clarified at least by borrowing a vaunted reporting crew from 60 Minutes or 20/20, one armed with experts and time (and some good TV graphics to jazz it up). That is journalism. TV news isn't.
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