The cost of reality TV?


Mark Follman
April 9, 2004 10:36PM (UTC)

Apparently, the fact that the "big 3" television networks decided to broadcast Condi Rice's 9/11 testimony live on Thursday is news itself. USA Today reports that NBC, ABC and CBS, notwithstanding their ability to compete with 24-hour cable news channels, sacrificed millions of dollars in ad revenue to cover the event. Network execs said the decision was worth it, with some of their star anchors elaborating as to why:

'''This was an attack on the country and people want to know what happened,' said NBC's Tim Russert, who analyzed Rice's testimony with anchor Tom Brokaw. 'We don't do this a lot, but when we do, it is extremely significant.'"

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"The broadcast networks would have taken a public thrashing had they not gone live Thursday, [Dan] Rather said. But in doing so, 'It sent a clear signal that public questions and concerns about the war on terrorism are at a high level.'"

Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin weighed in with a broader view of how the networks' coverage fit into the current television zeitgeist:

''It's about time American television lifted its collective eyes from train wrecks, celebrity deaths and rapes, and other non-burning matters to pay some hours' attention to an urgent matter. This is the least American democracy deserves.''


Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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