Hollywood Trumps Arafat

CBS producer canned for pre-empting cops ‘n robbers for Palestinian leader’s death

The mainstream press has a habit of revealing its biases. We saw this in the endless stories about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the largely missing follow up pieces about how those stories came to be broadcast and published.

Apparently, American press outlets fear being branded as liberal so they refuse to explore the obvious pro-war, pro-Bush bias that was on display in the run up to the Iraq war. The press also reveals its bias in little ways.

On November 10, a “female senior producer” in CBS’s news department interrupted the final moments of “CSI: NY,” one of these police dramas that dominate primetime television, to let viewers know that Yasser Arafat was dead.

On November 12, Broadcasting and Cable, a trade publication, reported that CBS apologized to its viewers for leaving a fake death unresolved to report the actual death of a world leader.

The network also announced that it had fired the unnamed producer.

She had been “overly aggressive” and “jumped the gun on a report that should have been offered to local stations for their late news,” CBS said according to Broadcasting and Cable. The network would not comment on the dismissal.

The episode is singularly bizarre. In the two weeks prior to Arafat’s death, the U.S. media kept up a breathless deathwatch that was filled with sickening speculation about who would replace him at the helm of the Palestinian Authority and the implications his death would have for the Middle East peace process.

There were moments when I tuned into one broadcast outlet or another and caught such a report in the middle. On more than one occasion, the tone of the report led me to believe that Arafat was already dead. The mainstream press in this country appeared eager to have him gone.

For years, the American media has represented Arafat as the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East while letting the Israeli government entirely off the hook. That just happens to be the view of the Bush administration and the Clinton administration before it. It is no surprise that the stenographers who work in the mainstream press are parroting it.

After carrying on in this way for days, a producer at CBS got fired for reporting his actual death too soon—not before it happened, mind you, simply before prime time was over. You would think that CBS would have been delighted to announce Arafat’s death, but you have to consider another bias—the one that values ratings and an audience over everything else.

The producer’s sin was to offend the viewers of a very popular show and in the news business, and I do mean the news business, that is a mortal sin.

Keeping the ratings up, keeping the eyes on the TV, and keeping Americans tuned in is what counts in the news business. Today, that is done by entertaining the audience. Entertainment has become the dominant value in the mainstream press.

This explains the many revolting talk shows on television that usually feature a blowhard debating a buffoon or a jackass arguing with a pachydermatous dimwit. It also explains why the producer had to be canned.

“CSI: NY” leads into the 11 p.m. news, which is just another kind of entertainment, and the 11 p.m. news leads into some other entertainment product. She interrupted the flow. She messed with the natural order of television. She made the viewers change the channels and they watched the happy talk on some other news program between 11:00 and 11:30.

But you need not worry. CBS restored that order. On November 12, the network re-broadcast the “CSI: NY” episode that had been violated by the producer. The fake death on that episode was solved.

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