SOLOMON: The Valiant Leaders of American TV News
Their courage was something to behold. During the 11-day ordeal, a few prominent men showed no fear, only valor, as they took up positions in one network TV studio after another. How they must have perspired underneath the fine suits, tight collars, silk ties and heavily starched shirts! Yet their intrepid fervor did not waver.
Leading the charge on national television was the host of the Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor." After nearly five days of captivity, he'd had about enough. Bill O'Reilly did not mince words about "our servicemen being held hostage over there."
A day later, on "The McLaughlin Group," rhetorical ricochet was well underway. "This is a defeat for the United States," Patrick Buchanan charged -- "a humiliation for the United States of America."
But the real heroics began a week into the standoff, led by a pair of media battalions under the command of magnate Rupert Murdoch. His influential magazine The Weekly Standard denounced American policymakers for "weakness" and even "capitulation." With that salvo hot off the press, top editor William Kristol shuttled to the Fox Television department of the Murdoch media forces.
When Kristol taxied into the bright-lit hanger of "Fox News Sunday," he was in no mood to cool his jets. "I really think it has been a very bad week for the United States of America," he declared. Soldiering on, Fightin' Bill added: "When we started expressing regrets, we have gone down a path of national humiliation. We expressed regrets. The Chinese respond by slapping us in the face."
Within minutes, reinforcements came from elsewhere in the same theater of battle. After almost seeming to flinch for a moment, veteran pundit Morton Kondracke stood firm against insufficient White House toughness. "If that was a line in the sand, it was certainly a fuzzy, wavy line in the sand," he scoffed.
Suddenly, Kondracke was outflanking the valiant Mr. Kristol, who had made the mistake of opining that "the first order of business for the Bush administration is to get those hostages back." Kondracke knew a better hard line and said so: "Once you've put total priority on getting our people back, I'm afraid you are on a road of concession after concession."
Though he kept a stiff upper lip before the commercial break, Kristol may have felt diminished in the eyes of the more manly viewers. Perhaps some remedial course work in Media Militarism 101 might be in order.
Another Fox pundit, Fred Barnes, quickly bucked up the esprit de press corps. "The way we're treating them is encouraging them to be irresponsible," he complained. Chinese hardliners "are being rewarded for behaving very badly, for holding American hostages, or detainees, now for a week."
Before the day was over, several major programs -- such as NBC's "Meet the Press" and ABC's "This Week" -- quoted The Weekly Standard's editorial while interviewing top administration officials.
(The New York Times had reported, back on April 3, that the American military "does not tolerate such close surveillance of United States territory." But in-studio warriors rarely bother with trifling information; other nations are to do as we say, not as we do.)
On Monday, April 9, transitioning smoothly from her labors for ABC on "This Week," Cokie Roberts was again quoting the Weekly Standard editorial -- this time on NPR's "Morning Edition." Later, through the day, and into Tuesday, CNN's senior White House correspondent John King was also quoting the editorial. That night, Kristol was on ABC in the form of prime soundbites on "Nightline."
The Weekly Standard's polemical barrage also got its editor onto NBC's "Today" show -- in a live interview with co-host Katie Couric on Tuesday. He was still in deep distress about the debasement of Uncle Sam. "We express regrets," Kristol said. "We say we're sorry. It is humiliating, I'm afraid." By then, Kristol might have been feeling appreciable fatigue.
Working in so many network studios must be exhausting. But Kristol refused to shirk his duty. And he did not hang back and risk being one-upped by any other pundit when Couric asked: "Isn't the safety of these 24 military crew people of paramount concern?"
"No, it can't be," Kristol shot back. Of course he was eager for their release. But: "The first priority has to be American interests and American honor."
Twelve hours later, Pat Buchanan was back in the limelight, this time on his old springboard to national fame, CNN's "Crossfire." When the show aired a clip of -- guess who? -- Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, saying "we have gone down a path of national humiliation," Buchanan was forthright: "Kristol is exactly right on that."
The next evening, while the 24 crew members were on the way home, a frequent political analyst for the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" appeared on the PBS program to proclaim that our nation was enveloped in shame. The Weekly Standard's David Brooks dug into his studio trench. "We should still feel soiled," he said.
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." His weekly syndicated column focuses on media and politics.