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Self-promotion Takes The Place Of Real News

February 19, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Q & A.

--How is it that a story about Monday night's ABC abortion movie, "Choices," showed up on KABC-TV's Sunday-night news?

Because Channel 7, falling back on grubby tradition, decided to use one of its newscasts to promote one of its entertainment programs in a ratings sweeps month. If you think "Choices" was a legitimate news story, I'd like to interest you in Moammar Kadafi's bar mitzvah pictures. After using a newscast to tout "Choices," moreover, Channel 7 used "Choices" several times to tout its 11 p.m. Monday newscast. Typical was Paul Moyer during a commercial break in the movie, billing a "special report on the controversy over abortion" on the 11 p.m. news.

Accompanying the Moyer promo was unidentified, seemingly live footage of anti-abortion protesters that left the impression that there was some sort of hot current protest occurring. Only it was apparently file footage, as you learned from Laura Diaz's insipid report--a musty rehash of the abortion debate keyed to the movie--during the 11 p.m. newscast.

What a shoddy, dishonest trick.

Following the Diaz report, Terry Murphy announced that abortion would again be the subject of Tom Snyder's talk show on Tuesday, as it was Monday when Snyder plugged "Choices" in advance of its Monday-night showing. Hence the self-serving cycle was complete.

The "Choices" incident was classic cross-promotion: News and entertainment shows were used to advertise each other and create news from non-news solely for the purpose of artificially inflating audiences.

--How could an ethical news operation do such thing? An ethical news operation couldn't.

--Did "Choices" depict the anti-abortion argument as fairly as it did the pro-choice side of the abortion issue? Yes, if those who oppose abortion on moral grounds are spineless, self-serving hypocrites. No, if the anti-abortion crowd has as much moral conviction and integrity as the pro-choice crowd does.

No matter where you stand on abortion, what's fair is fair, and "Choices" wasn't. The 62-year-old character played by George C. Scott was rigidly opposed to his 19-year-old daughter's abortion on moral grounds. "Is it possible I haven't communicated any morality to you at all?" he demanded. "At all?"

When faced with the pregnancy of his 38-year-old wife, however, his tune changed entirely, not out of concern for her health or the baby's well-being, but because he didn't want the inconvenience of fatherhood at his age.

"I have earned the right to sleep through the night," he told his wife, who wanted to have the child. "I am through with 3-year-olds' birthday parties and school plays."

Well, who could blame him? That double standard was his right, of course. But it also tainted his character, as if those opposing abortion had less moral conviction and integrity than those advocating choice. No wonder his wife called him a "bloody hypocrite."

His later flip-flopping (he was convinced by his daughter that his wife should have the child) only underlined his weakness of character. What a cheap shot. What a sham.

--How do Los Angeles stations keep coming up with those relevant and electrifying mini-docs for ratings sweeps months? Superior news judgment, I guess. It is boggling.

For sheer courage and tenacity, there was no topping Kelly Lange's relentlessly probing series on weddings last week on KNBC. At least that's what I thought until Monday's premiere of Moyer's bold series--"Freeway Terror"--on a man whose car broke down on the freeway.

No stay-at-home, pretty boy anchorman, Moyer took to the field for this one, braving freeway traffic himself in his own car, letting nothing deter him from pursuing this story. While in the field, moreover, Moyer observed a woman whose car had stalled, and he got that story too. Sounds like award city to me.

Channel 7 is no one-man show, though. After Moyer's report, Jerry Dunphy recalled the time that his own car had stalled on the freeway. Then he recalled another time that his car had stalled on the freeway. An obviously overwhelmed, Christine Lund said she was glad that Dunphy got back without further difficulty.

Now on a roll, Channel 7 pressed on.

Barney Morris was soon in the spotlight with his uncompromising expose of potholes. A number of citizens wilted under his brutal questioning and admitted that they didn't like potholes.

A lesser news operation would have reported on Los Angeles potholes and let it go at that. But not Channel 7. "We'll show you some this week from Detroit," Morris said.

The suspense builds.

These are all spectacular mini-docs. Yet, there are still some critical topics that eluded even those astute journalists at Los Angeles stations:

--"Dandruff: Why Don't People Like It?"

--"Pencils With Erasers and Without Erasers: Which Are Best?"

--"Dirt: Why It Makes You Dirty."

--"Homes: Are Some Nicer Than Others?"

--"Foreign Scandal: Potholes in the Philippines."

--"The Sexual Revolution: How Is It Different From the French Revolution?"

--"Salt: Must It Always Taste Different From Pepper?"

--"Media Shocker: Why Aren't There More Movies on Radio?"

--"Doctor's Report: Why Men Can't Give Birth."

--"Hollywood Humps: How to Care for Camels."

--"Flying High: Tree Houses of Prostitution."

--"Barbers Named Fred: There Are More Than You Think."

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