- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 28, 2002

TV news triviality

Thirty years after being awarded a master's degree at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Wolf Blitzer returned to his alma mater to deliver its commencement address and to say he was sorry.

"Indeed, in looking back on the weeks and months that preceded September 11, I must say, I like so many of my journalistic colleagues was embarrassed. We often neglected important news, especially from overseas, in favor of the softer yet perhaps more popular news," said the CNN correspondent.

"Wasn't last summer dubbed the Summer of the Shark? And how much time did we devote to the trials and tribulations of a smooth and handsome congressman from California named Gary Condit?"

That's because television journalists, in particular, Mr. Blitzer said, grew "fat and happy."

"We often felt we could afford the luxury of focusing on the less important, perhaps even the trivial," he said.

Spending several minutes reflecting on the world today, the popular TV newsman referred to the post-September 11 era as "an incredibly difficult and dangerous time." The day the hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Center, he said, was a turning point in his life, "similar to the feeling I had in 1963 when I was in high school and learned that President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

"My youthful naiveté was punctured that day," Mr. Blitzer said. "To a certain degree, my adult naiveté was punctured on September 11."

And while he wants to think the broadcast news industry learned an important lesson from September 11, he is already seeing signs of slippage in the TV news industry.

"There is still the occasional tendency despite September 11 to devote too much time to the perhaps compelling, but not really all that significant, news developments: a has-been actor [Robert Blake] charged with murdering his wife in Los Angeles; a Kennedy cousin [Michael Skakel] charged with murdering a young girl in the neighborhood 20 years ago," he explained.

Instead, Mr. Blitzer said, the war against terrorism that the U.S. is fighting should allow little time, if any, for trivial news coverage.

"As bad as the situation is right now, it easily can get a whole lot worse," he warned. "That's why it's so important that the Bush administration remains actively engaged; without high-level U.S. involvement, it will get worse much worse."

'Dubya' calls

Young Americans, for once, want Uncle Sam.

More than half of young people canvassed in a new Hart-Teeter Poll to be released today say they would give serious consideration to a request for government service coming from President Bush or Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

"Young people in the South are especially interested in hearing from Bush and Powell," finds the poll, commissioned by the Council for Excellence in Government. Overall, the poll finds that young Americans' interest in government service has grown over the past five years, with 40 percent deeming it fairly or very appealing, compared to 35 percent just five years ago.

And interest in government service is motivated much more by a sense of "public spirit" than was the case in 1997, when 53 percent found good compensation and job security the most appealing features, compared to 40 percent who cited helping people or serving their community or country.

Now the motivations are reversed: 54 percent find helping people or serving the community appealing, while just 42 percent look to personal economic reward or security.

The council releases the poll on a day when it honors Mr. Powell, former Secretary of State George P. Schultz, and former Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Alice M. Rivlin as three of this nation's distinguished government leaders.

Watergate redux

A 30th anniversary falls on June 17, although as in past years, there's little to celebrate.

Yes, it was three decades ago June 17, 1972 that burglars broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex and made H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Dean all household names.

Of course, there will be numerous observances of the Watergate anniversary, not the least of which will be held in the grand ballroom of the Watergate Hotel on June 13. There, the Discovery Channel will hold a cocktail reception and show a private screening of 18 minutes of never-before-seen footage, providing "new details" surrounding one of the greatest scandals in the history of the American presidency.

(No, "Deep Throat" will not be revealed. However, we recall that former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean last month said he will reveal in June who he believes was Deep Throat, the anonymous Watergate informant.)

For those not invited to the Watergate party, on June 17 the Discovery Channel will telecast world premieres of two programs, which will include the famous Richard Nixon-David Frost interviews that have been in reserve for 25 years.

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