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Just Another Day at the Office

It's ironic that broadcasters are at their best at times when we wish they hadn't been given the opportunity to show us how good they can be. The Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, the Challenger explosion and the Feb. 1 Columbia tragedy all required them to change gears in the blink of an eye. Almost to a man and woman (and, no, we're not going to go on and on about Aaron Brown's and ABC's conspicuous absence), network news operations scrambled to get people and pictures in place to try to make sense of what seems a senseless tragedy. While the networks were giving up ad time and scrapping regular programming, anchors gave up vacations, crews scrambled to get in position, and bookers racked up roaming charges to find experts.

It was an impressive operation, but in another sense it was routine. It is what we have come to expect of our media, and they of themselves. It's the essence of an implied covenant between the journalists and the bean counters. Here's the deal: Network news people drop everything, including families and normal lives, when a big news story breaks. They may have to work around the clock or dodge bullets or travel halfway around the globe. For their part, the corporation doesn't hound them about how many vacation days they have left or how many paper clips they are using to hold their scripts together (or ax that summer feature on Cannes as though it were a stand-alone junket rather than the flip side of Bosnia). As the corporate culture has changed, some journalists have begun to feel that the compact has been weakened, if not breached. Maybe it's the salaries, a lot of them are pretty big, or the esprit de corps, but last week's coverage betrayed none of the cracks in the system. That doesn't mean they're not there.

P.S.: We applaud the decision by the Big Four to blow out regular programming for Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the UN last week.

Where Credit Is Due

John McCain has reintroduced a minority-tax-credit bill that would benefit minority media owners by benefiting nonminority owners as well. By deferring capital-gains taxes on sales to minorities, the bill provides an incentive for media companies to seek out minority buyers. Hardly had the ink dried on the new bill when the NAB, the NCTA and embattled Clear Channel had sent out releases praising the move. Clearly, as with the NAB's decision to support the FCC's latest EEO rules, there is political capital to be made by supporting such efforts, particularly when the name on the bill is Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Commerce Committee. But, frankly, motives are immaterial. It is also the right thing to do, which makes that support welcome whatever the reason. All that lobbying muscle ought to be able to push this bill right on through to the other side.

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