Draping the flag over the news

Several media critics have begun raising questions about the propriety of television news reporters “draping themselves in the flag” during their coverage of the current crisis. In a lengthy article, today’s New York Times called attention to on-air comments by Fox News anchor Jon Scott, CNN financial anchor Lou Dobbs and CBS anchor Dan Rather, in which they seemed to voice their support for whatever response the U.S. government may take to retaliate against last week’s terrorist attacks.

In an interview with the Times, Fox News exec John Moody justified the patriotic stance the channel’s anchors have taken, saying “I think inasmuch as TV news often reflects America’s mood at any given moment, that’s what it’s doing now.”

But Harper’s Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur faulted TV journalists for sending out signals that they are “acting as an arm of the government as opposed to an independent, objective purveyor of information.” In today’s Washington Post, TV writer Tom Shales accuses the networks of being “excessively zealous in pasting flags all over their pictures,” noting that Fox News even included an animated flag on its screen as it aired part of a speech by Pakistan’s strongman Pervez Musharraf.

And on Time magazine’s website, deputy Washington Bureau chief Matthew Cooper, comments: “There’s plenty of flag waving going on but our job isn’t to join it. Our job is to report what’s happened and to ask questions. It’s to explore the war effort, not to be a cheerleader for it.” Nevertheless, Cooper confesses, “I’m a hypocrite on this issue. Journalist or not, I’d probably put an American flag in front of my house if I could find one.”