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A Moment that's Hard to Screw Up -- But Fox News Did It

Reported by Judy - April 12, 2006

Some of what happens on Fox News is bad because it promotes a conservative ideology that favors the privileged few in society over everybody else instead of reporting the news. Some of what happens on Fox News is bad because it's just plain bad journalism. That was the case Wednesday (April 12, 2006) when "Dayside" tried to report on the playing of the cockpit recorder from Flight 93 which crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001, after passengers fought their way into the cockpit and overpowered the hijackers.

The moment should have been a gripping one -- a reporter describing what happened inside the courtroom at the trial of so-called 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui when prosecutors played for the jury the cockpit recording from the Flight 93.

Instead, Fox News gave its "Dayside" viewers a bungled report from a producer, Carla Wendy, who generally does not appear on the air. Her inexperience showed and ruined the report. The blame, of course, does not rest with her but with her Fox News bosses who consistently place show-biz over solid news judgment.

"Dayside" co-host Mike Jerrick noted that Fox News put Wendy on the air because she was in the courtroom when the recording was played and the news channel wanted an "ear witness" to the event. Fox News has a reporter, Mike Emanuel, at the courthouse, who files reports during the day from the trial. But he cannot both be in the courtroom listening to what is going on and filing his "Fox News Alerts" every hour or so from outside.

So poor Wendy was sent in to do the incredibly difficult job of melding a report that both summed up what was being said on the tape, highlighted its key moments, and conveyed the feelings in the courtroom, which in keeping with courtroom rules, would be extremely muted and sublte to pick up. No wonder she failed.

Wendy tried to convey some of the drama of the moment, saying, "I don’t think anybody expected to hear such [a]bone-chilling re-enactment of what happened.” But when she tried to read either her notes or a transcript of the recording that she heard, it came across as more jumbled and confused than bone-chilling. It was difficult to tell whom she was quoting at certain moments -- the pilot, the hijackers, or the passengers.

The "Dayside" co-hosts didn't help. After Wendy commented on Moussaoui's demeanor during the playing of the tape, one of the co-hosts asked her, “What was your feeling when he was looking straight at you?” That, of course, is an inapproopriate question to direct at a journalist, which poor Wendy was pretending to be. If she had any feelings, Wendy needed to keep them to herself. How a journalist feels at any particular moment is irrelevant to the story in the first place. Furthermore, thinking about one's own feelings at moments such as those generally gets in the way of reporting what is happening.

If Fox News were a professional news channel, its news executives would have known better than to try a stunt like this. For one day, couldn't Fox News have skipped a few breathless "Fox News Alerts" from outside the courthouse that contained no real news and put its reporter, Mike Emanuel, actually inside the courtroom for the momentous event?

Or course, since Emanuel is a Fox News journalist, there's no guarantee he would have done a better job than the person they pulled off the street.

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