After watching most of the network news shows, I think the PBS News Hour and Aljazeera’s John Seigenthaler are the best. ABC, CBS and NBC are abysmal in covering foreign events. They have two or three foreign correspondents that they stick on planes to report from some recognizable building near where the event occurred, often not in the same country, but maybe in the same continent, e.g., reporting about Greece from London or about Libya from Lebanon. Aljazeera actually has some foreign correspondents who report from where the news is happening, e.g., from eastern Ukraine where fighting is going on. No one can top Margaret Warner of PBS for her foreign reporting, often from dangerous places that the big networks appear afraid send correspondents to, or are unwilling to spend the money to send correspondents there.
Money appears to be a big issue. ABC, NBC and CBS have clearly decided to cut spending on news coverage. Scott Pelley, Brian Williams, and Diane Sawyer appear lazy or stupid. Diane Sawyer has apparently embarrassed herself so badly that she is leaving ABC news to do something easier. The morning news shows (Today, etc.) have almost no news; they are mainly extended weather reports and stories about celebrities, often just pulled straight off the Internet. Charlie Rose was supposed to add gravitas to CBS, and he has helped, but the CBS news division appears to be so worthless that he has nothing to work with.
The networks would probably say that their flagship news shows can’t compete with the 24 hour coverage of the cable channels, but the Daily Show and Colbert Report frequently ridicule CNN and FOX for their terrible reporting. The networks, particularly MSNBC, have decided that it’s a lot cheaper to pay some talking heads to argue about politics and what’s been reported the New York Times than it is to do actual reporting. Cable news is just nonstop screaming at each other by the same mindless ideologues. Here, Seigenthaler has again excelled by having some interesting guests who are not on all the other talk shows, including people like Khrushchev’s great-granddaughter. Whether it is correct or not, she made the interesting point that today, as in World War II and may wars before that, the Russian people are willing to make great sacrifices, including giving their lives, for Russian greatness. The lesson is: don’t be too optimistic that sanctions on Russia will work.
The other cable news exception is Fareed Zakaria on CNN. His Sunday morning program is the best news show on television. It shows what it is possible to do with a talk show. He has interesting, intelligent guests and he asks them interesting, intelligent questions. NBC finally realized that Zakaria made David Gregory of “Meet the Press” look uninformed and incurious, and got rid of him. Brian Stelter of CNN’s Reliable Sources is another exception. I had enjoyed the show under Howard Kurtz and was disappointed when he left, but the show has gotten even better under Stelter. Meanwhile Kurtz at Fox has gone completely off the rails. I tried to watch him for several weeks, but he has apparently swallowed the Fox line completely. In addition he has the usual blond Fox minders to make sure he hews the party line. What a disappointment! I hope Kurtz is getting a lot of money because he has certainly embarrassed himself by becoming a whore for Fox News.