Thursday, August 03, 2006

Nightline Cribs from Vanity Fair, Still Misses the Story

I don’t always watch Nightline anymore. It is an irrelevant show at best, a disgusting excuse to pay Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran, and an embarrassment to the ABC news division. But on Tuesday, they were airing a piece about the 9/11 NORAD tapes, so I thought I’d watch.

What I saw was a pre-recorded (or “tape”) piece, as is usual these days, edited like some prime time magazine show. It had zero original reporting in it, and just piggybacked on the hard work of another—in this case, Vanity Fair writer Michael Bronner—also hallmarks of the new Nightline. The piece played sizeable excerpts from the tapes, recorded at NORAD’s Northeast HQ (NEADS), relaying the panic and confusion of that September morning, with a few of the day’s players narrating. The story seemed to bend over backwards not to assign responsibility for any of the day’s actions, and even went so far as to re-assert the lie that no one could have predicted an attack such as this one. It ended with the crash of United 93 and a military man saying “those passengers were our air defense that morning.” (Now that’s a feel-good spin on a horrible story. . . makes you want to stand up and salute, don’t it?)

Fascinating in a “fly on the wall” kind of way, but not really that interesting. Where was the “who,” the “where,” the “why,” the “how?” Who was in charge? Where were our leaders? Where were our air defenses? Why wasn’t anything done with earlier warnings about just such a hijack scenario? Why didn’t the 9/11 Commission publish transcripts of these tapes? How have things changed since 9/11 to protect against the chaos at NEADS that morning? It made me wonder if the Vanity Fair piece was really that devoid of perspective.

Thank god for the Internet, huh? Click on over to the Vanity Fair site, and you will find a plethora of stories within the story, any number of which would have piqued the interest of a real news program. Let me note two (as summarized by Atrios):

  • There was no command given to shoot down United Flight 93, despite implications to the contrary made by Vice President Cheney. Cheney was not notified about the possibility that United 93 had been hijacked until 10:02 a.m.—only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. And United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked. President Bush did not grant commanders the authority to give a shoot-down order until 10:18 a.m., which—though no one knew it at the time—was 15 minutes after the attack was over.
  • Parts of Major General Larry Arnold and Colonel Alan Scott’s testimony to the 9/11 commission were misleading, and others simply false. The men testified that they had begun their tracking of United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but tapes reveal that the plane had not yet been hijacked, and that NEADS did not get word of the hijacking for another 51 minutes. According to Bronner, when confronted with evidence from the tapes that contradicted his original testimony, a NORAD general admitted, “The real story is actually better than the one we told.”

Use of the word “impacted” aside (I think “hit” would have worked just fine), those sound like two fairly important points, don’t they? Wouldn’t some investigative reporter want to get Cheney or one of his henchmen on the phone and ask why he lied, and continues to lie, about the timeline there? Wouldn’t a real journalist want to book Maj. Gen. Arnold or Col. Scott, or maybe some 9/11 Commission members for an on-air interview?

Hell, just talk a bit with Bronner, after all, he did the real work. He’s pretty excited about what he uncovered—I’m sure it would make pretty good television.

I know, I should give it up. Nightline does not endeavor to be good television any more than it pretends to be a news program. It is viewed as a stepping stone (to god knows what) by its new producers, and a showcase (or maybe just a paycheck) by its new anchors. The network brass can’t wait till they can remove it from the airwaves and have former fans like me thank them for it.

Still, there is so little hard news on broadcast television these days, that I worry for the small percentage of the viewing public that might care to be informed. Just how much work are most people willing to do to get real news? You certainly can’t expect the “talk radio with pictures” shows on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX to pick up the slack. . . and yet that, along with the first three minutes of the nightly network news, faux news magazine shows (with their focus on true crime and celebrity gossip), and, sadly, the new Nightline are all we have.

And it was Nightline that made the Vanity Fair 9/11 piece seem so empty I almost didn’t read it. . . .

But ABC had already sold the commercial time while kindling the desire for more news as little as possible, so maybe that was their intention.

(If you were wondering why I did not provide a link to the Nightline piece, it’s because there is none. Inexplicably, if you go to the Nightline page at, you will find a link to Wednesday’s story—as well as the hard-hitting piece on “man-purses”—but nothing about the 9/11 tapes. Could they make my point for me any more clearly?)


Post a Comment

<< Home