Sunday, July 13, 2008

Role Models

During a recent interview with Isabel Betancourt, Larry King simply had to ask whether she was sexually assaulted during her captivity. To Betancourt’s credit, she chose not to respond. She chose not to. King could have chosen not to include titillating questions but he did – he also asked whether she and the other captives were chained, lived in huts, or dealt with jungle animals. He needed to know each and every horrid detail of her six years of suffering in Colombia’s jungles. I can imagine the veteran journalist (and network executives) rationalizing that we, the viewers, want to know every salacious, delicious detail of Betancourt’s time with the FARC rebels.

But did he really need to ask such questions? Though a lot of folk may indeed want to know whether the hostage was raped and tortured, King could have used his show to bring his viewer’s attention to far more important stuff such as global poverty and inequity. He could have used his very influential forum as a vehicle to educate and promote change.

And speaking of change, both presidential candidates have lately been accused of flip-flopping and pandering, of not keeping their promises. Obama on Iraq, NAFTA, gun control and wiretapping. McCain on tax, campaign and immigration reform as well as torture. It has been argued that this is to be expected: after winning their primaries, a candidate usually moves to the center. This is all strategic, to win more votes and the presidency. Quite frankly, I am not at all surprised with the candidates’ “refining” of their policies and with TV journalists giving viewers what they want. But I wonder if these good people, who have the opportunity and influence, would not take the lead and set the example, if they would not take the risk and stand on principle, then who would?


Anonymous said...

It takes knowledge, insight, and research to talk about the larger issues associated with the Colombian hostage situation or other events and crises. "Journalists" like Larry King don't bother to take the time and effort to report in a responsible and meaningful way, so the public ends up with the same sensational coverage of every story. Saying that this is what the public wants is an excuse, and largely inaccurate. This is what the public is give.

Erwin said...

Thanks for your comment and I clearly share your sentiments about the Larry King brand of journalism. The quality and depth of public discourse need to be vastly improved. Pundits and media outlets have the responsibility not only to participate in this change but to lead. As consumers, we also have to demand better fare.