When It’s Not Appropriate to Define “Appropriate”

by Norman Horowitz

When I was at Polygram in the ’80s, we produced a program with the RKO General stations called Eric Severeid’s Chronicle. Eric had been a journalist of note at CBS.

I screened the first program of the series, and I wasn’t thrilled with what I saw. It’s my belief, however, that comments and suggestions about entertainment content by people like me is absolutely what screws up the process.

I had lunch in New York with Eric, and I began the discussion by humbling myself. I told Eric that my news and journalistic experience was essentially meaningless, and that I held him and his career at CBS in the highest regard. I explained that we sold his show to individual stations throughout the country, and that there was to be no editorial control whatsoever. I wanted him to know that his “commentary” could be as outrageous and blunt as he chose to make it.

Eric told me that was never under any restrictions concerning his commentaries at CBS News. Eric continued to be Eric, the program lasted one season, and no one was ever upset by anything Eric said in any of his commentaries.

In my opinion, most broadcast network on-air “journalists” are latter-day versions of Severeid. They exist and report “within the same invisible box.” When they are reporters, they report, and when they are making commentary, it is so designated.

Stephen Colbert, Keith Olbermann, and Jon Stewart, on the other hand, are not journalists. You need not be a journalist to be the “teller of truth.” But what about Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace? According to The Hollywood Reporter:

Anderson Cooper and Nancy Grace are among those questioning the appropriateness of the celebration as Caylee’s murder remains unsolved.

After Casey Anthony was declared not guilty by a jury Tuesday, her defense team went out to a local restaurant to celebrate, a move that was criticized by some.

“I spent probably an hour and a half in there today,” truTV’s Jean Casarez told Velez-Mitchell. “It is a celebration. It is a celebration, they say, for justice, they say for innocence, from someone who did not commit crimes of a great magnitude.”

Casarez added that when the verdict being read was replayed on the seven flat-screen televisions in the restaurant: “They would cheer amongst each other, because they believe that victory had come to them on this day of a verdict.”

But the high-profile celebration — which came after the verdict that many considered shocking — was frowned upon by some in the media.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper played a clip of the video and noted that it had raised eyebrows among many since 2-year-old Caylee was still dead and there are still unanswered questions about her murder.

Meanwhile, HLN’s Nancy Grace was more blunt.

“The defense team is inside a bar having a champagne toast right now,” she said. “Now you know what? I’m not a preacher and I’m not a rabbi, but there’s something wrong with that. Because Caylee is dead and her body decomposed just 15 houses away from where the Anthony’s put their head on the pillow every night, every day searching for this little girl. Now I know it is our duty as American citizens to respect the jury system and I do, believe me I do. I’ve struck over a hundred juries. But I know one thing. As the defense sits by and has their champagne toast after that not guilty verdict, somewhere out there, the devil is dancing tonight.”

Who in heaven’s name allowed Cooper or Grace to determine “appropriateness” about anything without at least a “in my opinion” prefacing the comment?

Both Cooper and Grace were doing “unvarnished opinions” and should have separated what they said in this regard from their “reporting.” Now what’s so hard about that?

At a Screen Gems staff meeting in the early ’60s, I presented a program that we were producing, and the General Counsel of the company gave his opinion of the program. A short while later, the same person commented about the language of a particular contract, and the Company President admonished the General Counsel by saying that he was a lawyer and that he should restrict his opinions to the law and not “content.”

It’s my fervent hope that someday the purported broadcast and cable “journalists” will separate their opinions from their reporting.