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Posted by on Aug 25, 2005 in At TMV | 0 comments

The integrity of Bob Costas

Cross-posted at The Reaction:

Integrity seems to be in short supply in the TV news business, and especially in the cable-TV news business (with its hyped-up 24-hour news cycle and endless stream of sensationalism, but for once a major broadcaster has stood up for the integrity of his profession (not to mention his own) and said that enough is enough.

That major broadcaster is Bob Costas — long one of my favorites, whether it’s been the Olympics, baseball play-by-play, his own late-night show, or, well, pretty much anything he’s ever done. Recently, Costas signed up at CNN to fill in for Larry King, the network’s leading purveyor of sensationalism, on an occasional basis. According to the Times, however, he “resisted a request last Thursday to be the host of a King program devoted to interviewing guests about the already widely covered Natalee Holloway missing-person case in Aruba” (see here).

What’s so significant about that? Well, how often do you hear a major broadcaster, someone of Costas’s stature, say no? Such integrity may be found well behind the scenes, out of the glare of public scrutiny, but rarely does it emerge to address the sorry state of TV news. Here’s how Costas put it: “Nothing had been spelled out about my being able to turn down certain topics, but it was implied.” And here’s how Jonathan Klein, CNN’s president of domestic operations, put it: “It’s important that we never have an anchor doing a story he does not believe in.”

(Fair enough — though Klein should reconsider the value (or, rather, the lack thereof) of keeping the atrocious Nancy Grace on CNN’s Headline News and the banal and self-important Paula Zahn and the blatantly xenophobic Lou Dobbs on the main network. I can live with Wolf Blitzer’s hot air, but I’m a big fan of the dynamic Anderson Cooper and the occasionally pretentious but generally intelligent Aaron Brown.)

Costas may not be taking on the excesses of the cable-TV news business, as his modesty (enlivened by the occasional dose of justifiable self-righteousness) may only ever lead him to quieter acts of rebellion, but his “no” is as big as (and should be as influential as) Jon Stewart’s notorious “dick” comment to Tucker Carlson on the since-axed Crossfire. Hopefully it isn’t just a one-off. Hopefully Klein, who’s trying to remodel his flagging network into a viable anti-Fox, will listen to the concerns of one of his newest yet most respected stars and focus on improving the quality of CNN’s programming.

Don’t count on it, however. As we all know, cable TV thrives on (and profits from) ratings-boosting sensationalism, whether it’s the lame-brained Bill O’Reilly spewing his narrow-minded folksiness on Fox or even the shout-inducing Chris Matthews dumbing down political discourse on MSNBC.

And that’s not about to change. Just watch Network.