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Saturday, May 01, 2004  

News and analysis: Nightline put the facts first

Having been an admirer of Nightline since I was in my teens, I watch it whenever I can. One would be hard put to find a program that has consistently reported on serious issues with both professionalism and empathy more often than Nightline. So, when the some folks began trying to bully Ted Koppel (pictured) into not running Friday's program, a tribute to Americans who have died in military service in Iraq, I was steadfastly in his corner. Nothing I've read or heard since has changed my mind, including viewing the show.

WCJB in Gainesville, Florida reported on an effort by an affiliate group to stifle Koppel.

The ABC news program Nightline will devote a special edition of its broadcast Friday night to US troops. Anchorman Ted Koppel will read the name of every soldier who has died in Iraq. The broadcast is being called "The Fallen." But, viewers in eight cities will not see Nightline the special because Sinclair Media Group objects to the format.

People in Gainesville we spoke to say they have no problem with the program. Tinone Purton says, "I feel like it’s a good gesture to read out the names of all the men and women who took the courage and went out and died for the country." Deloris Gaitainus agrees, "I realize that some people are concerned about it bringing up the bad memories, but for people that have suffered that loss, the memories are there." Eric Bendler is a reservist, "It seems like a large pill to swallow to put it on a prestigious show like Nightline."

A pill Sinclair says their viewer's don't need to swallow. Vice President Mark Hyman told ABC news that, "We don't want to see Nightline trivialize the deaths of our brave service men in the fashion that they are doing."

Trivialize? The program consisted of the names of the service men and women being read aloud while photographs of them, usually in uniform, were shown. The only trivial aspect of it as broadcast on KATU here, was that a disclaimer, basically apologizing for daring to air "The Fallen," ran in place of commercials. The interruptions deprived the program of what would have otherwise been a dignified display. The disclaimer also revealed the station's management to be craven people.

The persons who complained about the episode cite the supposed trauma to family members caused by hearing the names and seeing the pictures. That makes no sense. Anyone who has lost a family member in Iraq is very much aware of it already. Grief will occur whether the loss is acknowledged on a television show or not. Furthermore, most survivors interviewed about the "The Fallen" do not object. They want their relatives' names and faces known.

Nor has Sinclair necessarily won the approval from people deprived of the broadcast it likely expected.

ASHEVILLE - A somber crowd of nearly 100 gathered on the lawn of WLOS-TV's property in Biltmore Park late Friday night to protest the station's parent company's decision to black out a Nightline broadcast in which the names of more than 700 war dead were read.

"If they were my children, I'd want you to know their names,'' read a sign carried by one older woman, signaling the anger generated by Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to pre-empt the Nightline broadcast in Asheville and seven of its other markets.

. . .Sinclair aired a special program in place of Nightline. The program discussed the merits of the war and Sinclair's decision to pre-empt Nightline.

Illuminated by the glow of candles flickering in a light breeze, the protesters spoke quietly among themselves before organizers began reading the names of the 700 men and women who have died during the war in Iraq.

So what is it that those harassing Nightline really object to? I think what they oppose is the dissemination of information. If the program had consisted of cheerleading for the war they would not be up in virtual arms. But, it didn't. Instead one came face to face with facts -- the faces of the Americans who have died in an ill-conceived invasion and occupation. It is much more difficult to sell 'heroic' myths about the war when the populace is presented with information. It is that harm to continued myth making these people fear.

Ted Koppel should be commended for his contribution to truth telling about a war that continues to claim lives, both American and Iraqi, daily.

6:45 PM