As Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Diane Sawyer began their hourlong broadcasts Monday night at ground zero—after some of their cable counterparts had been there earlier—I got a familiar feeling.
This is what the media can do when they get serious about news, as we saw most dramatically on 9/11 and in the wrenching days that followed.
Then, we were coming off a frenzied summer devoted mainly to Gary Condit. This time, when Osama bin Laden was killed, we were emerging from the cable-fueled craziness over Barack Obama’s birth certificate—a charge that many journalists knew to be a lie but allowed themselves to be hijacked into constantly covering.
The reporting on the helicopter raid that led to bin Laden’s demise in Pakistan has been sober and substantive, with intelligent exploration of the military, political, and global angles. There hasn’t been the usual overheated speculation. And there’s been a striking absence of partisan sniping, the kind that can make Fox News’ coverage look like the mirror image of MSNBC’s. The fact that President Obama presided over a successful operation hasn’t caused the commentators who oppose him to find reasons to snipe, at least for now.
To be sure, this is an upbeat story from an American point of view. Celebrations broke out, not just in front of the White House but across the country. There is a collective feeling that justice has been done, that 3,000 innocent Americans have been avenged, that the country is briefly setting aside its differences and pulling together. That is an easier plot line to cover than the battle over the debt ceiling.
But it’s a welcome reminder that news doesn’t have to be sensational or superficial to be compelling.
Medea Benjamin on being admonished by the president—and what she would have said if she could have finished on Thursday.