- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Readers of this column know that I normally deal with serious subjects like the economy, in which I often take controversial positions. But recently I got caught up in a lighter sort of controversy, when I defended CNN for hiring former “NYPD Blue” and “JAG” actress Andrea Thompson as an anchor for its Headline News channel.

Like many people, I am on numerous e-mail lists, including a number dealing with media affairs. I find it helpful in my work to know what the “buzz” is among media-types. Two sites I find particularly informative are Jim Romenesko's media news page at poynter.com and newsblues.com, which reports on happenings in the television news business.

Last week, I was inundated with commentary from these sites when the news broke that Thompson was hired by CNN. The critics were out in force. How, they said, could a high-school dropout, with no journalism degree and a minuscule amount of television news experience, be appointed to such a high-profile position? It was a scandal, they said, especially when CNN has had a large number of layoffs recently, including many seasoned veterans.

Some of the laid-off CNN employees have even started a website, tedsturnovers.com, which posted some nude photos of Thompson from obscure movies. Of course, this was justified on the grounds that her appointment made them “news.”

What a crock. The photos were posted for the sole purpose of attracting traffic, which they did, and embarrassing CNN. Thompson, to her credit, did not back away and said, simply, that she had been a professional actress for 20 years, and, “So what?”

Although I applaud Thompson's response to her critics, I must say it puts her very out of step with the industry she is joining. The media today expect contrition, tears and apologies, not “So what?” Her critics expected her to withdraw her appointment, slink away somewhere and perhaps rehabilitate herself one day by crying on “Oprah” about exploitation by evil pornographers. Then she would have been welcomed with open arms by her detractors.

Anyway, I got in the middle of this by posting a letter on Romenesko's website defending CNN for hiring Thompson. Her critics were acting as if she was replacing Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News,” back in the days when a lot more people got their news from this source. Today, of course, relatively few people watch any of the major network news broadcasts.

I said that this isn't rocket science. All those who anchor at CNN Headline News do is read copy that someone else wrote. How is this really any different from what Thompson has been doing the last few years as a television and movie actress?

I concluded by saying:

“I think the reason why so many television news people are reacting so strongly to her (Ms. Thompson) is because the line between what they do and what she did on shows like “NYPD Blue” is so thin. Most television 'journalists' in my opinion are nothing but actors to begin with. Both essentially do the same thing: read lines written for them by someone else, and try to look good and appear believable while doing so.”

I went on to say that most of the heavy lifting in television news is not done by high-paid anchors like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, but by producers whose faces never appear on screen. They come up with the story ideas, research, report and film them. Rather, Brokaw and Jennings just read the copy and pocket the big bucks, while the producers are paid little and get even less credit for their hard work.

Well, like the kid who said the emperor is wearing no clothes, I didn't realize what I had done. Soon, I was besieged with e-mail from outraged TV newspeople, incredulous at my supposed ignorance. A reporter for the Seattle Post- Intelligencer quoted me, and the next thing I knew I was Thompson's de facto PR spokesman. (By the way, I have never met or spoken with her in my life and know nothing about her other than what I have seen and read.)

Frankly, I was happy to do it. I like Andrea Thompson as an actress and was sorry to see her leave that field. But I thought she deserved a lot of credit for voluntarily leaving a very highly paid job for one that paid her much, much less, simply because she likes it. For the last year she has been working as a local reporter at KRQE in Albuquerque, N.M. I haven't seen her, but by all accounts Thompson did well and worked hard to learn the TV news business.

Naturally, it was said that Thompson only got the job because of her looks. Well, “duh.” Does anyone really believe that it is possible to get an on-air job in television news these days without being good looking? Where were these critics when ex-beauty queen Diane Sawyer was hired at “60 Minutes.” Or when ex-model Willow Bay was hired at “Moneyline.” And does anyone think Connie Chung — who is even more beautiful in person than she is on TV — would have gotten hired at ABC, NBC or CBS if she were ugly? No, of course not. And neither would Rather, Brokaw or Jennings.

So let's cut the hypocrisy. It's getting a little thick. Television news is a business like any other. It has to produce ratings so that advertisers will buy time and pay the network to run their ads. If no one tunes in, as is increasingly the case with CNN, what are they supposed to do? Run losses and take it out of the hides of the shareholders? I think not.

Personally, I think it would be better if we just called news anchors what they are called in England, “news readers.” That is all they do, and that is fine. But we shouldn't pretend they are anything more.

For myself, I would rather watch Andrea Thompson read the news than most of the others doing so these days. Perhaps I will even start watching CNN again.

To paraphrase, the road to tax complexity is often paved with the best of intentions.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide