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The people who actually gather the news are ranked way down the scale. I was once assigned to do a story on Walter Cronkite after he had been demoted for the only time in his career. He had been demoted in the sense that he became the co-anchor and that was big news. So my story idea was to see how this would change the way he was treated by others. But I missed the big story, which was that he didn’t do anything. When he came in at 10 in the morning the program was set by a producer who came in very early and pulled together everything that was on the wires. Cronkite would get to work about 4:30, put on makeup, go over the script, possibly to ensure that he could pronounce all the names. He would describe his role as not that of a reporter but of a managing editor. But he was not like a managing editor. The producer was like a managing editor.
So if television news is the way most people get their news and television gets their news from newspapers and newspapers have settled down into local monopolies and don’t have nearly as many reporters looking into anything, then the funnel is much smaller at the beginning. By the time the news gets to television not much is being covered. Yet television is so colorful, so literally colorful, that you get the impression that they are covering everything.
The foreign correspondents pride themselves on the ability to come in cold knowing nothing. There was one case where a correspondent was sent to Tehran during a hostage crisis, and then within 20 minutes of getting off the plane he gives a fluent report of what was happening. What they did was give him an ear piece and a producer in New York read AP copy to him.
Every now and then somebody like Dan Rather will put on an Afghan costume and you will see him with some turban thing on this head and robes walking up some rocks, wanting to feel like a reporter. Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein. But what this is, is getting the party line from a person instead of from a document. He was being anything but tough on Saddam Hussein. People like the handout better when it is being read by Saddam Hussein.p> TAS: What did you make of Rather’s fake-but-accurate defense? br> Tom Wolfe: I think that is just called covering your back side. The anchors can have a lot of influence whenever they want to stick their oars in, because they are getting the biggest salaries. That was true of the astronauts at the beginning. They were celebrities, so if they got together to demand this or that they would get their way. Dan Rather certainly wasn’t going to say he was wrong just because this, this, and this right-wing source had come up with proof that it was a forgery. It was such a stupid kind of thing because anybody who has ever used a typewriter could tell at one glance that this was not typewritten. /p> p> TAS: Are the tiny mummies these days a liberal media monolith that is cracking up? br> Tom Wolfe: I’m not sure it is dying because they are liberal or not. But readership is declining. Younger people are getting their news from the Internet or television. Most people don’t read editorial pages. I think I must have been 40 before I even looked at an editorial page. There was a great story at the
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