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press reaction

Chicago Tribune, Steve Johnson

"Every time you grab your news free on the Internet or place an ad on Craigslist, you are putting reporters out of work and pushing the country down a path that ends with many opinions and very little news on which to base those opinions.

That's the take, anyway, of the third episode of 'Frontline's' much-discussed News Wars series. ... It's also more or less the standard take within the old-line institutions from which series reporter Lowell Bergman, a former '60 Minutes' producer, also springs.

If there's a complaint to be lodged about this hour, it's that nothing in the broad outlines will really be new to the people who have followed the story. But let's assume, because it's true, that the vast majority of the public doesn't follow this stuff the way people whose jobs are in imminent danger do. … For the people out there to whom news is important … the 'Frontline' hour is an exceptional distillation of the new media forces at play. ..."

 

Ottawa Citizen, Alex Strachan

"… An ambitous, occasionally maddening and often thought-provoking expanded edition of PBS 'Frontline.' The topic is unwieldy, the treatment sober, at times stiff. Through the tireless pursuit of correspondent Lowell Bergman, an old-school newshound from the Edward R. Murrow-Fred Friendly era, 'Frontline' landed some impressive "gets"…

Bergman has done a terrific job of assembling facts and getting the key decisionmakers on the record, but the bigger question -- what does it all mean? -- proves more elusive. The problem is that no one really know -- not the editors of major newspapers, not the money managers who worry about keeping their profit margins safe, and not old-school news veterans like Rather and Koppel. Even the purveyors of 'fake news' like the Daily Show and the online news gurus at Yahoo! and Google are reluctant to predict the future."

 

Jane Burns, The Capital Times (Madison, Wis.)

"... Why does all this matter to anyone besides media people and those who obsess about such matters? Because as 'News War' shows, it seems to be not just about squashing what gets printed or televised, but about showing who's the boss. ...

'News War' makes clear that there's a tougher fight than ever going on between what people should know and what those in power want us to know. If those in power win that war, we'll all be sorry."

 

David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun

"... I cannot stress enough how important correspondent Lowell Bergman is to the success of this timely four-part exploration of the state of contemporary journalism. ...

Listen to his questions, pay attention to his tone of voice, watch for the raised eyebrow. The award-winning former 60 Minutes journalist ... is the lifeline of News War. His onscreen persona as the focused, challenging questioner informs and drives the narrative."

 

Melanie McFarland, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Frontline's timeliness is unusually impressive. As I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's perjury trial is in full swing, the PBS news series brings us 'News War,' a four-part examination of the challenges the news industry faces in an era of consumer backlash and secretive government. ...

Over the course of two years, Bergman conducted more than 80 interviews with figures across the media spectrum -- print, broadcast and electronic -- to delineate the ways in which in-depth reporting and the idea of reporter-source privilege are slowly crumbling.

The result is a more expansive capsule of where the American news media stands now, and where it is headed, than anything that has come before. ..."

 

David Bianculli, New York Daily News

"... [T]he only obvious bias of which Bergman can by accused is a mania for thoroughness.

Good for him. And, with the result being a serious self-examination by and of an occupation that seldom focuses inward with such intensity, good for 'Frontline.' And good for us."

 

Sam Allis, The Boston Globe

"... [A] solid hour and a riveting one. The first is a soup-to-nuts review of the Valerie Plame affair, which became the Judy Miller affair and now the Scooter Libby rodeo. ... The second hour, which runs next week, is great television. It plumbs the tensions over stories that ran in 2005 in The New York Times and The Washington Post exposing highly secret government operations. It is here that the show lives up to its name."

 

David Friend, The New York Times

"... [T]he gravity of the issues at hand are bolstered by the courtroom-drama style of the series, in which video snippets take us from a meeting of Times editors to the Washington courthouse where lawyers and reporters stood their ground to defend their sources. In addition, Mr. Bergman has collared a slate of marquee names --Woodward and Bernstein; Koppel and Safire; Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos blog; Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google -- to reflect on journalism's prospects of retaining its status as a public trust.

The first program is not perfect. In particular laying out Plame 101, three years after Mr. Wilson spoke out, feels way late, while going to air just weeks before an expected Libby verdict seems premature. More to the point is the lack of context. 'Frontline' might have been better served by opening with 'What's Happening to the News?,' the third installment in the series, which focuses on the fundamental challenges confronting the news media, all of which have contributed to the government's bold posture in questioning the press's traditional role. ...

In the end, the achievement of 'News War' is to remind viewers of the fundamental principles at stake in this showdown between the government's desire for secrecy in the post-9/11 age and the journalist's ability to report what Mr. Woodward once termed 'the best obtainable version of the truth.'"

 

Paul Brownfield, The Los Angeles Times

"The lead reporter on 'News War' is 'Frontline's' Lowell Bergman, and he's sneaking marvelous. ... Watching [him], ... you get to see what it looks like -- a reporter on TV actually responding, listening and extemporizing. ...

None of this ground is new, but it is good news analysis. ... Yeah, it's insider baseball at a certain point, but a nation's pastime nonetheless."

 

Leigh Ferrara, MotherJones.com

"Although News Wars is jam-packed with information and Bergman has scored interviews with many of the heavy-hitters in the industry, media junkies may feel as if they've heard all this before. And, if you're like me, you'd be happy to never hear the word 'Plamegate' again. But the series is leavened by Bergman's dry sense of humor and witty repartee with his subjects, making for entertaining -- if not ground-breaking -- TV."

 

Verne Gay, Newsday

"The institution [of the press] is stuck in the maw of an unprecedented crisis of confidence. ... That filigree of neurosis verging on panic is finely etched through 'Frontline's' four-hour series….

Unfortunately, not deeply enough. At least in the first two hours, this otherwise laudable series is far too beholden to the sacred cows of Big News. ... That's perhaps understandable because 'News War' is reported by Lowell Bergman, who's something of a sacred cow himself. A longtime 60 Minutes producer and co-winner of a Pulitzer a few years ago for the [New York] Times, Bergman is a superb journalist and one of the craft's finest investigative reporters. Yet like other members of this strange and querulous breed, he sometimes offers a much clearer view of the trees than the actual forest. ..."

 

Dusty Saunders, Rocky Mountain News

"... Based on tonight's opening hour, subtitled 'Secrets, Spin and the Future of the News,' the series should be viewed by those of all political stripes and media members -- particularly journalists who deal regularly with news sources on and off the record. ..."

 

Rick Kushman, The Sacramento Bee

"... Bergman is a smart guy, a concise questioner and a good storyteller. ..."

 

Frazier Moore, Associated Press

"... The first hour of the four-part series does a splendid job of untangling the snarl of events that began in early 2003 with the Bush administration's drive to win support from the public, and the media, for invading Iraq. ..."

 

Joan Ostrow, The Denver Post

"... The University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism co-produced the series with Frontline, and while it will have special resonance for those working in the media, it may be a bit dry for the wider audience. An opening discourse on the Supreme Court regarding the confidentiality of source feels like a graduate seminar.

Still, the interviewees are impressive and the observations instructive. ..."

 

Vince Horiuchi, The Salt Lake Tribune

"... It's a concise and detailed overview of how the news media's effectiveness has changed since the war in Iraq began and where it has failed in its coverage of terrorism.

But best of all, as with all Frontline segments, it's a fair and balanced analysis of the issue, a rarity in today's trend to present television news with an attitude and a slant."

 

Antonia Zerbisias, The Toronto Star

"... [E]ssential viewing. ... For those who believe there is no democracy without a strong -- and unleashed -- watchdog, there is nothing else to watch."

 

Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg Times

"Like many PBS documentaries, News War often feels like the TV version of eating your vegetables: a parade of talking heads with few celebrities or big moments. Those who know these issues will find little new information. But Bergman's effort ultimately proves a startling thesis: The danger facing the modern press has never been higher. And the public may be okay with that."

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posted feb. 13, 2007

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