A Window on the Media
The performance of cable news on a historic weekend


Conrad Black

I started out to write about the proclaimed coalition between the Palestinian factions of Fatah and Hamas, and will get to a condensed analysis of that in a few paragraphs. My interest was sidetracked by my effort on Sunday to see the television-news treatment of that and other current issues, especially the canonization of two popes of recent memory by the present pope in the presence of the immediately preceding pope. By accidental misfortune, I started at CNN. Fifty minutes of the main 3 p.m. Sunday newscast were devoted to the utterances of the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team to his female companion, complaining of her alleged flaunting of her relations with African-American basketball players on or around the team, including retired basketball great Magic Johnson. I watched and listened in almost gape-jawed astonishment as this individual’s impatient recorded comments were played and analyzed and commented on by miscellaneous basketball personalities and fans, up to and including the president of the United States, speaking in the company of the prime minister of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

As far as I could judge, the basketball owner was speaking to his companion, who says she is of mixed African-American and Latin-American ancestry, in the fairly familiar vocabulary and inflection of a grumpy, physically rather decrepit, sugar daddy to a much younger woman who is spending too much time and affection for his liking on younger, very athletic men who happen to be of her and not his pigmentation. The Clippers’ owner may be a foaming-at-the-mouth racist bigot, as the CNN newsreader and interviewees relentlessly described him, but this was not in the least clear from the remarks that his girlfriend, who is being sued for unrelated matters by the wife of the Clippers owner, surreptitiously recorded and released to the media.

With inexplicable patience, given my many years of unsuccessfully hoping that CNN could handle a news menu with reasonable judgment of the comparative importance of developing events and treat items with a professional distinction between reporting and comment, I waited for the second item of the world’s news to emerge. After 50 minutes of repetitive slathering of this jealous old roué as the most odious racist in America since the piping days of Bull Connor, CNN moved on to the missing Malaysian airliner. It is a terrible tragedy, but it is a stale story. When the second hour of the newscast opened with continuation of that story, I rushed as quickly as my limited ability to operate a sophisticated remote-controlled television set now enables me (flying a B-52 is probably easier), to the BBC World Service. The next two hours were a prideful time for me, as a British citizen and Canadian resident, moving between the BBC and the two main Canadian news networks, as I noted that the imputations of unsuitable racial attitudes to the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers were not mentioned. The Beeb led with the Ukraine crisis and a sensible and thorough report on the scuffling and skirmishing between pro- and anti-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine. There followed a balanced story on U.N. allegations that Syria was withholding 7.5 percent of the sarin gas it had pledged to surrender to the Russians; the cancellation of the summer’s planned climbs of Mount Everest because of the accidental death of 16 sherpas; President Obama’s Far East tour; Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s admirable remarks on the eve of Holocaust Day and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reply to them; observations of the 20th anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa; and the conscientious resignation of the prime minister of South Korea over the ferry-boat disaster (a commendable example to Western leaders of taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions, which has no chance of being followed by them). It was not a day of miracles, and both the Holocaust and Obama stories were tainted by the Beeb’s rampant antagonism to Israel and the United States.

The Canadians presented most of the same stories in a somewhat different order, but all three got, in mid-newscast, to a recognition of the ceremony in Rome, including Pope Francis’s greeting the emeritus pope Benedict, and the fact that almost a million people crowded into St. Peter’s Square. That approximately 2 million people came specially to Rome for the occasion was mentioned only by the Canadians, and the BBC could not resist a passing notice of the fact that the former archbishop of Canterbury considers that Britain is “now a post-Christian country”; this is hardly news, as historian Arnold Toynbee and others have been saying that for 65 years.