Dowd sprains wrist. Latest blow to newspaper.

I wondered whether I was the only one who was amazed and even offended by the subhed under today’s lead story in the New York Times reporting the bomb attack on ABC’s Bob Woodruff and a cameraman. It read:


Now I get the point that the next headline makes: “Field Reports Were a Ratings Strategy.” There is a business angle. Woodruff, they’re saying, was put in harm’s way by Nielsen. Though one could also say they were put in harm’s way by journalism, by the need to report. And the subhed might have just as easily read, “BIG BLOW TO FAMILIES.”

  • In making their journalistic work look only like a business strategy, they insult anyone who works. After all, every one works for the sake of reputation (“ratings”) and money to some degree, but such things aren’t the goals of any given job, I don’t think.

    The point of being a journalist is to find & report the truth, and that’s a risky business, and one many of us are grateful others are willing to do.

    One thought: My colleagues on the Right don’t like the MSM much. Is it possible they detect a lack of humanity in the focus some publications/media outlets take? These journalists are being treated, to some degree, like mere cogs in the ABC media machine, and it is that machine the NYT finds important to talk about. How many other groups, how many other sorts of people, get this sort of treatment by parts of the media? (Just asking, not hyperventilating or anything.)

  • EB

    ABC was putting their network news (co) anchor in Iraq, that is like NBC putting Brian Williams out there, or in the olden days Dan Rather for CBS, in other words, ABC HAS field reporters in Iraq doing on-scene news gathering and reporting from the war zone, did they need to parachute their anchor in for ratings? I think that is a legitimate question, but the timing of asking it or putting it in a headline might be regarded as tactless.

  • It is an insult to decency to ask the question at all, Ed. It assigns blame inappropriately. He was injured by a bomb, not a strategy.

    The assumption that Bob wasn’t reporting and that the network already has people in place to do that is shallow and baseless. You’d have to know Bob to fully understand that, but then, you don’t.

    I do, and I’m damned angry at any suggestion that Bob wasn’t a victim here. Would that the New York Times had a little more to say about assholes who blow up innocent civilians in the name of righteousness.

  • Terry,


    Did you mean to say “insurgents”?

  • Ed raises a good point. I might have to rethink the first part of my post.

    Still, the tactlessness of the headline – should I think of that are “careless,” or a learned behavior on the part of certain media outlets?

  • Can a person really be a news anchor and a reporter at the same time? It would seem that the effort required to really dig into a situation would preclude this.

    Thus, news anchors give the impression that they are more like the color sportscasters than those finding the facts. Whether they should go to the hot spots or not seems a matter of style.

    On the BBC (and many other foreign stations) anchors are newsreaders and interviewers and reporters are, supposedly, people in the field with special expertise or knowledge.

  • Soldier’s Dad

    “Can a person really be a news anchor and a reporter at the same time? It would seem that the effort required to really dig into a situation would preclude this.”

    From the quality of some reporting…a person could be a full time patient in an Insane Asylum and still be a “reporter”.

    I did find the discussions about ABC’s business needs in the same pieces as reports of the injury and evacuation to be completely tactless.

    The administration doesn’t include commentary on “The War” when it reports casualties.

    There are 2 inured journalists…this is their condition…our hearts and prayers go out to them and their families.
    That is the story.

  • I thought this was pretty tasteless too – especially given the timing.

    I just wanted to direct you to ABC’s World News Now podcast because they had a clip of The View and Barbra Walters taking the Times to task on this. Unfortunately, I am not sure anyone really wants to hear media criticism from Star Jones.

  • John

    One of the complaints voiced (mainly, but not always, on the right) about the media in Iraq over the past two years or so is their reluctance to get out of the Green Zone in Baghdad and report what is going on elsewhere in the country. To go after ABC for actually trying to do that with one of their highest-profile reporters comes across as churlish, while the Times’ take on the story shows they’ve got a few people on staff a little overly concerned about February sweeps ratings than is necessary.

  • I think once Woodruff comes back, he will have gained even more respect from his audience for his dedication in the face of high risks. At the same time, he will have even more respect for the environment our troops and civilians experience on the ground in Iraq.

  • I don’t know about the TV business, but I know that print reporters often wish that top editors could try out their job for while. It gives them a better feel for the news they’re editing, and more appreciation for the work reporters do.

  • richard mcenroe

    “Field Reports Were a Ratings Strategy.” There is a business angle. Woodruff, they’re saying, was put in harm’s way by Nielsen.

    In other words, screw the truth, but we’ll risk your life for a extra share point in the 6-7 block…

  • EB

    It’s SWEEPS people…. so ratings are definitely something ABC is interested in, part of the reason they went with the co-anchor was so that one or the other can be out reporting all the time “in the field” … this is part of their business model….. it can’t be ignored, my point was it should have been brought into the discussion by the NYTimes in a more tactful way… but in the “olden days” the networks only put their big anchor names out in the field RARELY, and ABC wants that to change, and hopefully they will get better ratings. (which is probably a discussion to have after the person who was sent, and who also went because he wanted to do the job, is not on death’s door.)

  • EB

    BTW; this media blog has a round-up of other stories relating to this topic, for those interested:

    Romenesko blog entry on the Woodruff story:

    main page here:

  • I think it’s somewhat humorous and ironic that Dowd was used as the headline of this post. When Bob Woodruff got the co-anchorship, the women who wrote “Are Men Necessary” wrote that Woodruff was an ‘pretty boy android’ – and complained that Vargas didn’t get the assignment herself, implying that that was the case because she was a woman.

    That was a sexist remark that is probably not yet policially incorrect. Maybe Dowd can get off her ass and head over to Iraq.

    But I’m sure she has much more important things to do.