Committed to the First Amendment
Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/19/2002 8:00:00 PM
Curtain time at the Apollo
This was certainly not the way Jerry Levin wanted to go out: with AOL Time Warner's stock in the tank and the AOL online business suddenly uncertain. Rather than reassuring anxious shareholders who gathered for their annual meeting in Harlem's Apollo Theater last week, he would have preferred to use his farewell as president and CEO to crow about record earnings and a soaring stock price. As it was, he had to remind investors of what is right with the company and thank them for their "faith, hope and, above all, patience," even though he knew all three were running out for some in the room.
The readers of this magazine do not need to be reminded of Levin's accomplishments. Suffice it to say that, during his 30 years with the company, it grew from a publisher of magazines into the biggest, baddest media company in the land. "It has been a stunning ride," he said. Yes, and he was in the front seat much of the way, when the road was smooth and when it was bumpy. Levin borrowed his penultimate words from Douglas MacArthur. "I now close my business career," he said, "and just fade away—an old CEO who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty." Conjuring up the general was fitting. Like Levin, MacArthur retired in a valley of a career that had far more peaks, and he lost some battles. But history shows (and most remember only) that he won his wars.
CBS's airing of the Daniel Pearl tape drew criticism ranging from bad news call to ratings ploy to the "heartless" charge from Pearl's wife--all understandable, but all miss the mark.
Not that TV doesn't invite skepticism with its blurring of local news and entertainment during the sweeps (how many what-killed-the-dinosaurs stories aired on ABC stations last week?). But we agree with CBS that the video was an important visual for its story on the recruitment of extremists for possible attacks against the U.S. The Washington Post reported that First Lady Laura Bush and Pearl's wife, Mariane, discussed "the extent of the propaganda we are up against when it comes to dealing with the terrorist networks." That's exactly the story, painful as it was, that CBS was trying to tell. Yes, the tape was disturbing, but more disturbing to us was the government's attempt to discourage the video's use.
CBS made a similar tough call on the six-month anniversary of 9/11, when it aired a powerful documentary despite protests from victims' families—some of whom acknowledged afterward that they found the documentary well done.
The journalists and executives involved have expressed their sorrow for any pain their decisions may have caused. They have an obligation, we believe, to be sensitive to those complaints but also to report the tough stories. Victims of events of high news impact become, unwillingly, part of that news. Neither CBS nor any news organization can change that.
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