- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2001

Journalists behaving badly during the terrorist crisis continue to accrue criticism and lose commercial sponsorship, at least in one case.
ABC's "Politically Incorrect" no longer has the blessings of Federal Express, which has pulled advertising from the late-night show hosted by Bill Maher. In a moment of zeal Monday night, Mr. Maher claimed that the practice of launching cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away was "cowardly."
The network received numerous complaints from viewers who thought the remark was inappropriate. Fed Ex also was blanketed by calls from outraged consumers. After reviewing the show, the company pulled the plug.
"The 30-second ad that runs during that show has been pulled for the indefinite future," said company spokeswoman Carla Richards.
ABC issued a response that sounded civilized but admitted little. While the show "celebrates freedom of speech and encourages the animated exchange of ideas and opinions," the network stated, "this forum can oftentimes arouse intense emotions, especially during such a sensitive time."
"While we remain sensitive to the current climate following last week's tragedy, and continue to do our part to help viewers cope with unfolding events, we have an obligation to offer a forum for the expression of our nation's diverse opinions."
Indeed, the TV audience remains on high alert. A Pew Research Center poll released yesterday found that most viewers have been shocked and horrified by the images, yet were hard-pressed to stop watching. Poll respondents gave CNN the highest marks for coverage, followed by ABC, FOX and NBC. CBS got the lowest ratings.
On-camera correspondents have received both applause and condemnation for their work as the terrorist siege unfolded. Radio talk-show host Lucianne Goldberg suggested that CBS' Dan Rather and ABC's Peter Jennings should retire, noting that they did not know if they were "journalist or performers."
Some news organizations are fretting over the line between patriotism and jingoism during rapid-fire coverage and commentary.
"Why should it be an outrage to note that Bush's demeanor early on stopped somewhat short of being inspirational?" asked a Boston Globe editorial. The Baltimore Sun observed: "Many in the news business are seeking ways to balance their competing impulses during this time of crisis as journalists and as patriots."
Baltimore's independent channel WBFF-TV required newscasters to read "messages conveying full support for the Bush administration's efforts against terrorism," despite objections from several staffers. The station compromised by re-issuing the message as the words of "station management."
People magazine, meanwhile, struggled with an aesthetic mess of its own.
While many news weeklies dispensed with advertising altogether this week, People left its commercial framework intact, with disastrous results.
A Playtex brassiere ad appeared opposite a news photo of people running from the World Trade Center while a candy ad with the slogan "twelve chances to improve your aim" appeared by a photo of a police officer and an injured person.
"We are absolutely sick about this," said Peggy Carter, a spokesman for Playtex. Proctor & Gamble said it was "disappointed."

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