SOLOMON: If a TV News Anchor Talked Straight
Warren Beatty's new movie "Bulworth," now showing in theaters nationwide, has caused quite a stir. The plot features a successful politician who begins to speak with absolute candor -- a notion so outlandish that it's apt to sound incredible.But the scenario might seem even more far-fetched if the film's blunt protagonist were a TV news anchor instead of a U.S. senator. Imagine how astonished you'd be if you turned on a television and found a newscast like this one:"At the top of the news tonight -- well, never mind. As usual, the script on my TelePrompTer is a scam. It's written to make money, not sense."Tonight, I'm supposed to say more about sorrow in the wake of the latest school tragedy. Yes, the sorrow is genuine. But the chances of your kid getting hit by a bullet at school are very small. During an average month in this country, four children die after being shot at school -- while about 400 kids are killed by gunshots away from school grounds. Overall, poverty is a big risk factor."Meanwhile, television offers little to young people other than mediocre programs and a lot of commercials. As for TV news coverage: If it bleeds, it leads. But if it challenges social inequities, it rarely gets air time. We'd much rather run more footage of yellow police tape, grieving relatives and moralizing politicians."From the somber tone of some news stories, you might think that our network is appalled by violence. Don't make me laugh. This network adores violence. We broadcast plenty of it -- in prime time -- with guns often presented as the way to solve problems. And the conglomerate behind this network also owns a movie studio that puts out a continual stream of films glorifying murder and mayhem."During the last few years, White House conferences and newsmagazine covers have hailed scientific discoveries about the importance of the first years of a child's life. Duh. What did we think -- that we could keep kicking kids around from year one and not have it affect them in crucial ways?"While we've cheered the ascending stock market, children have seen us shortchanging their futures. I've been around long enough to know that lip service is meaningless compared to how we use our money."In many public schools, the students get little or no counseling -- because, officials say, there's no money to hire more counselors. As for higher education, the Justice Policy Institute points out that government decision-makers `have been robbing our universities to pay for prisons we don't need.'"Back in 1995 -- while media outlets were busy distracting us with endless reports about O.J. Simpson -- state governments made history by collectively spending more to build prisons than colleges. Prison construction went up by $926 million, to $2.6 billion, while university construction fell by $954 million, to $2.5 billion. How's that for planning a future for our kids?"The Census Bureau recently found that 11.3 million Americans under age 19 had no health insurance (even though 92 percent of them had at least one working parent). Meanwhile, a study by the Center on Hunger, Poverty and Nutrition Policy at Tufts University calculated that more than 30 million Americans are going hungry -- an increase of 50 percent since 1985."Today, among all the industrialized countries, the United States has the largest gap between rich and poor. But we're not going to spend much time talking about such facts on our newscasts. Why should we?"It's not rocket science: To watch out for my career, I've kept a lid on -- playing it safe -- going along to get along with people more powerful than me. After all, I don't really work for journalists. I work for business executives. And the day I upset their apple cart is the day I'm looking at a pink slip with my name on it."Most of the news we put on television reminds me of the story about the emperor's new clothes -- the royal guy parades around without a stitch on, but no one wants to take the risk of saying so out loud. Maybe you yell at your TV set. But believe me, the studio walls are just about soundproof. We can barely hear you. And we won't, unless you shout a whole lot louder."