Station Break9/23/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Patriotic displays, yes
A plan by Sinclair Broadcasting for its stations to offer messages of support for government efforts against terrorism brought objections from some Baltimore talent, who were required to read the notices.
Station sources confirmed dissent among WBFF(TV) talent, who felt that they might compromise their objectivity and credibility by sounding as though they supported specific people or actions. The proposed message, from which Sinclair said stations could deviate, said that the station "wants you to know that we stand 100% behind our President and his vow that terrorism must be stopped" and suggested that messages be left at supportournation.com for "President Bush, and we will send it on to our nations leaders." Baltimore staffers informed viewers that the opinions expressed were those of management. Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman said other stations in the group had received the idea enthusiastically.
On-air staffers indicated that it would be a no-win situation for them since they risked looking unpatriotic if they refused to read the messages. In fact, one staffer, who was not a fan of the messages, noted that the only negative comments received by the station early last week were critical of the station talent—whose complaints first aired in the Baltimore Sun—for not getting on board with the rest of the country.
Patriotic displays, NO
On the other hand, at least two news directors, WKBD-TV Buffalo, N.Y., and WFLA-TV Tampa, Fla., ran the risk of negative public opinion with their dictates that station talent not wear patriotic ribbons on the air. "I'm kind of a traditionalist," said WKBD-TV News Director Bob Yuna. "Our competition's split on this subject. I think it looks cleaner and more straightforward without the ribbons. We have an outdoor weather set that has a flag on it. If somebody felt strongly about it, I would talk to them."
WFLA-TV News Director Forrest Carr jumped deeper into the thicket. "That type of patriotic display is appropriate for many people," he said, "but not for our role as journalists." Carr said he had mixed feelings and consulted the Poynter Institute before issuing his memo to staff. "Of course we're patriotic. But if terrorists have created a society where your patriotism is questioned because you haven't wrapped yourself in a ribbon, haven't they already succeeded?"
Overtaken by events
It was a bittersweet moment for Lou Prato. The Radio-Television News Directors Association had planned to honor the veteran journalist and well-known educator for his long service to the organization—including 20 years as treasurer—with a reception at the beginning of the conference and a scholarship in his name.
Although the attacks on New York and Washington led to the conference's cancellation and members scrambled for rental cars to return to their newsrooms, the remaining staff and membership went ahead with the reception.
Though touched, Prato acknowledged that the national tragedy that morning made the reception "like a wake. I felt very uneasy accepting this honor—even though it is one of the highlights of my life." Ironically, the cancellation of the conference meant a delay in its elections, which means Prato hasn't actually retired and remains treasurer.
KRQE News Director Dan Salamone was an early voice in the discussion of whether stations or networks should continue to use the now-familiar but nonetheless devastating video from the day of the attacks on New York and Washington. "I feel that, at this point," Salamone said, "we have all seen the horrific images and that viewers feel it is exploitative to keep using these images unless there is a legitimate journalistic reason. Too often, these pictures end up on the air because an editor is looking for pictures to fill in the reporter's story."
Salamone distributed a memo to his staff last Monday, about the same time ABC was deciding to curtail its use of the video, informing employees that use of those images would be made on a case-by-case basis.