Wednesday, June 23, 2004


As talking heads go, Aaron Brown is one of the better ones. His biggest problem, however, is the fact that he's overly enamored with himself and the "craft" of journalism. His smugness makes him utterly blind to the reality of the business he's in. Consider this, from last night's show:

It seems the administration has decided that among the enemies in Iraq are the media. Complaining about what he believes is a lack of balance in the coverage, the number two man at the Pentagon, Paul Wolfowitz said this before Congress:

"Part of our problem is that a lot of the press are afraid to travel very much, so they sit in Baghdad and publish rumors and rumors are plentiful." He then said too much attention is paid to violence because the violence is sensational.

First of all, we don't publish rumors. Second, reporters ours and others, travel a good deal. They went to Fallujah during the nastiness there. They were in Najaf. They're in Basra tonight.

They have also gone to schools and hospitals and a lot of other places to present the most balanced picture they can of what life is like but the fact is that life in Iraq today is dangerous.

Listen to what the Iraqis say. Listen to their fears about leaving their homes in Baghdad, for example. Listen to their new government talk about the possible need to impose martial law.

Iraq isn't black or white. It's neither all good, nor all bad, but to argue, as Mr. Wolfowitz implicitly does that security and violence are not the major story, is about as correct as his argument to Congress that the reconstruction would be self financing and that Iraqis would welcome us with flowers.

Now, it's nice that Brown gives Wolfowitz a bit of a smackdown. But, it's rather undercut by Brown's assertion that "we don't publish rumors." The "we" here is media, and not just Brown who probably is less likely than some to report "rumors." But, of course, the media report on rumors all the time. In fact, here's Brown awhile back on the Kerry rumor.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.

Here is the question of the night. At what point, if at any point, does rumor become news? There are three ways to answer this I've learned in the last day. If the rumor is about your guy it never becomes news. If the rumor is about the other guy it's news right away. If you're a reporter or an editor the answer is when you feel like it.

Yesterday, the net was abuzz about a rumor involving John Kerry, a nasty rumor at that. We didn't get near it. It wasn't news. It lacked facts but it was all over the net. Millions of people read it and hear it. Conservative talk radio ate it up all day and today the story moved. Mr. Kerry denied it on a national radio program.

So, does that denial make it news? Is it fair to take the denial and use it to spread the rumor because that's what's happening? And, while I feel comfortable about how we're going to deal with this all tonight, I also know that we are pushing up against an uncomfortable line in day when facts and fiction can spread far too fast. That's later in the program.