A reporter refuses to allow his network bosses to “spike” or kill his story about the worsening chaos in Afghanistan. His lawyers notify the network in writing that further assignments to conflict zones will not be accepted until the issue is resolved. Management retaliates by ordering the reporter into war-ravaged Bosnia, then firing him on trumped-up charges of refusing a legitimate assignment.
The court battle that ensued revealed not only the dysfunctional leadership of a once-proud network, NBC. It also threw a spotlight onto the creeping intrusion of entertainment values into the management of news, practices that led to the tabloid excesses of the late 90’s – and the failure of America’s network news industry to inform the nation of the rising storm of global terrorism, and later, the deceptions used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq.
In 1994, journalist Arthur Kent won record damages and a complete retraction from NBC, plus the right to publish the evidence amassed during the 18-month discovery phase of the lawsuit in Risk and Redemption: Surviving the Network News Wars.
First published in Canada in 1996 by Penguin Books, the book has proven eerily prescient, both about the declining standards of America’s broadcast news industry, and the terrible consequences of ignoring crises in world affairs.
Ever wondered why America's biggest network news companies were pumping out stories about shark attacks and the Chandra Levy mystery prior to 9/11? Or how often, in the 1990's, they sent teams to places like Afghanistan? Were al Qaeda’s attacks and the Iraq quagmire the result only of failures by America's intelligence agencies, or also the dumbing-down of news programs by the nation's best-financed organs of electronic journalism?
The evidence in RISK AND REDEMPTION provides some damning answers. Kent vs. NBC was the only legal battle, prior to 9/11, in which the top executives of a major American network were compelled to testify under oath about the encroachment of entertainment values into the day-to-day running of their news division.
Much of the testimony has to do with the arbitrary reduction of international news coverage - by order of the network's entertainment executives, who in turn were following directives of their parent company, General Electric. Promoters in NBC's Entertainment Division ruled that foreign stories wouldn't draw ratings as large as those that could be stirred up by sagas such as Long Island Lolita, or the Menendez brothers. The Cold War was over, they told News Division chiefs, so it was time to turn American audiences inward with tabloid programming that could earn bigger short-term profits.
RISK AND REDEMPTION takes an inside look at the managerial dysfunction that created the single-story, ratings-driven broadcasts that distract, rather than inform, Americans to this day.
From the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square and the Gulf War; from Bosnia to Afghanistan; from the thrill of victory to the agony of dumbed-down newsmagazines, follow the foreign news trails back to the executive offices and courtrooms of America.
The future doesn't have to unfold the way a federal investigator predicts in the film QUIZ SHOW: "I thought we were going to get television, but I guess television is going to get us."
Only if we let it. Only if we let it.
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