The ego of the anchors

After a network anchor was nearly killed in the Middle East, we still have the networks sending their talking heads there, in hopes they won’t be blown off. Why? All they do is stand and read the Teleprompter, the same as they do back in the studio. What do they add?

ABC’s Charlie Gibson was humble enough to say:

“Just because the guy who anchors flies in doesn’t mean he knows it better than the people who are on the ground,” said Gibson.

“If I come in, or Katie comes in or Brian comes in, does that necessarily increase how good the coverage is?” asked Gibson. “Does it necessarily mean it’s going to be better because you have an anchor there?”

I agree. So why does he go?

“I think probably it calls more attention to the story. But I’m very mindful of the fact that the people who regularly cover the beat know it best, and I don’t want to do anything in terms of anchor travel to preempt the prerogatives of those who really know the stories best.”

I think Gibson’s attitude about what the stars add or don’t add to coverage is exactly right. But I also think that the idea that sending an anchor alone brings more attention to a story is sadly egotistical and not just of Gibson but of the networks and the profession.

This is ego as journalism. It’s no different, at its heart, than my favorite hobby horse about journalistic oversupply: Sending 15,000 journalists to the political conventions just so you can have a byline. It says the story is important. It says we’re important. It’s ego.

After the attack on Bob Woodruf, there is, of course, another angle to this story: Networks putting anchors, their crews and their families at risk. I salute Katie Couric for saying straight out that she will not go to a war zone because she should not make her children orphans. Eat the Press disagrees, at first, saying this will affect her gravitas (they then have second thoughts).

Gravitas, my ass. They read Teleprompters. And they look silly doing it in safari gear.

: UPDATE: Well, so much for my praise of Couric. Page 6 at the NY Post says that Access Hollywood has corrected its Couric quotes.

: LATER: E-the-P’s Rachel Sklar emails to say that she wasn’t playing the gravitas card herself but was predicting what the gravitasmongers would do this with… if, in fact, Couric had really said it. Rachel and I agree about Couric’s family obligations and the need for good sense.

  • Good thoughts. I would suggest that most news viewers are interested in actual events, not who’s telling them. And the fact that it seems most of the press is in the ME right now because it’s active is preventing viewers from knowing more about events in Somalia, Indonesia and Guatemala, where coverage would draw away personnel from the war zone. Are there any charitable activities taking in the latest tsunami and its 600+ victims? Maybe Katie would consider a trip.

  • I think what he really means to say is that it adds more drama to the story. It is sensational. It is entertainment.

    If anchors would just admit that, then I think we would have nothing to complain about — go to the Middle East, pump up the volume, but don’t act like your intentions are
    journalistically pure.

  • Jimmy

    I never understand why people are surprised at the egos of stars, and no matter what they may think anchors are stars; just ask $20 million Katie. You don’t put yourself on television or the silver screen if you don’t have a little bit of an ego in need of stroking. Take Mr. Jarvis; can he truthfully say there’s no ego involved with having a popular web site that leads to invitations to be on TV shows, write for major news organizations, or speak at conventions? Well, he has to answer to that, but what’s wrong with have a healthy ego about your work? It certainly doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of often disagreeing with him.

    Now to the ego of anchors who think they bring something to war zone reporting I think it depends on the consumer. For those 10 million people who still watch the nightly news I do think they enjoy seeing their anchor on (or at least near) the front line. For those who don’t watch nightly news programs, myself included, it means little.

  • Rufus

    So Katie WOULD go to Iraq? The proof is in the pudding — Katie, get your rifle and

  • When Murrow was in England for the bombing, it was immediate and terrifying to a listening public who was not used to such broadcasts.

    We’ve sort of grown up since then. And anchors have retired to the relative safety of their hotel balconies.

    Why bother?

    It’s like the guy at the fishing dock who stands next to the big shark that someone else caught.

  • Lynn

    What sickens me is that the horrifying wars are presented to the public as “POP CULTURE”…without the serious respect that these dire times requires…In the far past, journalists would report the news from their desks, as in Walter Cronkite reporting the death of Kennedy…Today that report would be surrounded by zippy graphics, electronic music and commericals.

  • hey

    Anderson Cooper showed the benefit of the anchor showing up on 360 last night (July 24th). CNN has admitted that it changed its coverage to protect its people in Saddam’s Iraq, and one can rationally expect that this policy extends to other dangerous situations and other networks, where the coverage seems distinctly divorced from reality (such as the BBC noting that male “civilians” of military age dying in Lebanon are frequently unacknowledged Hezbollah fighters).

    The guy from away can say things that the local correspondent can’t say, and the local correspondent can blame the idiot from the home office for the truth getting out. This doesn’t happen much (especially on CNN), but it is valuable when it happens. In reporting on the Global Jihad, the beat reporters are a perpetual target, and so have to shade the coverage. Drop the big guns into Bali, Thailand, Java, Jakarta, Kula Lumpur, Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Israel, London, Paris… and you can get the truth out.

    The only people who will speak truth to power on an ongoing basis are the local opposition bloggers, who are ideologically committed to highlighting the dangers of the jihadis and willing to engage in risks that a Liberal Harvard grad building her resume is unwilling to do.

  • hey

    So I forgot to mention how Anderson showed his usefulness. He was in Beirut to cover the results of Israeli attacks. He added running commentary about how Hezbollah had fighters making sure they only shot what Hez wanted to publicise, that they wouldn’t let their “minders” be filmed, that they orchestrated shoots, cynically arranged interviews with ambulance drivers they had lined up and then had zoom off with sirens blaring to non-existent emergencies, and ordered a man on a balcony to give the victory sign and play Hez anthems. Anderson called them on their BS and said how they left after the anthems started to play.

    Amanpour and Robertson won’t do this for safety and political reasons, but Cooper was giving straight talk. He even dryly noted how a “civilian” neighbourhood was under such Hez control that they could run a large and effective PR operation amongst bombed out rubble. He also showed how non Hezbollah Beirut was living life as usual, with power, Internet, bars open, hotels taking in guests…

    As a dose of reality it was only below the French Foreign Minister having to take shelter in a stairwell from a Katushya bombardment (from the misunderstood Hez) and Bill Hemmer showing the effects of Katushyas and their anti-personnel rounds with ball bearings for extra disabling effect.

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