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Howard Rosenberg / Television

Channel 2 Steps Up to the Defense Stand After Ito Is Criticized for Interview

November 18, 1994|Howard Rosenberg

Deep thinkers . . .

Not that some stations would ever pretend their anchors are something they're not or anything, but the following memo recently went out to KCBS-TV Channel 2 news writers:

"When scripting questions for anchors to use in interviewing guests . . . please write the questions on the left side of the script . . . not the right side! Anchors prefer to have the questions on their hard copy . . . on the left side of the script . . . not in the prompter on the right side."

Where in-studio guests possibly would be able to observe for themselves that these anchor intellects are reading questions written by others?

If only some anchors had TelePrompTers in their brains when they did attempt to ad-lib. Or was 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. KCBS anchor Michael Tuck reading from a script Tuesday when--injecting his own opinion into what is labeled a newscast--he raised the sour grapes issue concerning a Los Angeles Times editorial critical of Judge Lance A. Ito for agreeing to an exclusive interview with Tritia Toyota that was run this week on Channel 2? Tuck wondered aloud whether The Times would have taken its condemning position had it been the recipient of Ito's generosity.

What seems to have eluded Tuck is that no one has slammed Channel 2 for doing the interview--there's hardly a news organization around that wouldn't have wanted to question Ito outside the courtroom--only the judge for making himself available to the station after being so publicly critical of media excesses regarding coverage of the Simpson-Goldman murder case. By helping feed the whipped-up frenzy, Ito, not Channel 2, was the one straddling a double standard.

In further rebuttal, Tuck weighed in with another unlabeled commentary following Wednesday's taped Ito interview segment. "The judge has criticized the media for irresponsible or erroneous reporting," he said (or read) to Toyota and his co-anchor, Ann Martin. "This (the interview) is not irresponsible or erroneous. What do you say?"

Martin and Toyota murmured their agreement, apparently satisfied that they had demolished the detractors.

*

Again, they just don't get it. Infinitely more windblown than the segmented interview itself--consisting mainly of benign musings unrelated to the Simpson-Goldman case--has been Channel 2's rhetoric in promoting it. By week's end, Ito had come face to face not only with the low-key Toyota but also with November ratings sweeps madness.

On Wednesday, in fact, Ito indicated he was having second thoughts about the interview after a prospective alternate juror he was quizzing in the double-homicide case mentioned seeing one of the full-page newspaper ads Channel 2 bought to promote it. He wouldn't have agreed to the interview, Ito said, "if I had known they were going to do that."

He should have known, given the record of Channel 2, a station that not only has made some horrendous gaffes in its own Simpson-Goldman reporting but also continues to air and heavily advertise syndicated programs dedicated to sensationalizing the case, such as "Hard Copy" and "Geraldo."

Preceding Tuesday's 4 p.m. "Action News," for example, was a "Geraldo" episode that featured a computer-generated, "blow-by-blow" depiction of the murders of Nicole Simpson Brown and Ronald Lyle Goldman, plus "graphic blood evidence" allegedly linking O.J. Simpson to the murders. And oh yes, there on the set was a white Ford Bronco like Simpson's famous one that has become an integral part of the prosecution's case.

Not to worry, though, for "Geraldo" had promised to start the program with a warning to Simpson jurors and any other potential viewers "who are at all squeamish" to turn off the show immediately. When it comes to exploitation, there's nothing squeamish about Geraldo Rivera.

*

And speaking of talk shows and interviews, if Katie Couric's questioning of David Smith on Tuesday's "NBC Dateline" and Wednesday's "Today" programs weren't sad enough on their own merits, NBC News did its best to massage viewers' tear ducts by deploying sorrowful music with funeral and home-movie footage of the two tots that accompanied Couric's chat with their remarkably composed young father, whose estranged wife is charged with the South Carolina murders of their sons.

Where have all the standards gone? There was a time when applying music to news coverage was a no-no because its purpose--like an editorial--was to manipulate the responses of viewers rather than allow them to judge the material on its own merits and come to whatever conclusions they saw fit.

Music plus news equals show business, something that too many newscasts increasingly rely on. Alas, the music will stay, as will self-serving ratings-sweeps stunts disguised as news, such as Thursday's and today's cynical relocation of "Today" co-hosts Couric and Bryant Gumbel to the Los Angeles set of their network's hit medical series, "ER." And while in the neighborhood, these kids managed to find time to drop in on NBC's hit comedy "Friends."

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