The self-examination of television news
Television, like Dracula, seems to avoid looking into the mirror. While many newspapers and magazines are busily involved in self-examination, usually in the form of on-staff ombudsmen, television only takes a peek at itself occasionally, and seldom schedules full-fledged programming aimed at self-examination.
There are exceptions, however.
Notable is Public Broadcasting's ''Inside Story,'' anchored by ex-State Department spokesman Hodding Carter, now completing its fourth season on the air. ''Inside Story'' has just agreed to go into re-edited repeats to fill the gap left by the demise of ''The Lawmakers'' on the PBS schedule.
Executive Producer Ned Schnurman - though still awaiting final approval by General Electric of grants for future series - told the Monitor that he is planning a 13-week series in the fall, followed by another 13-week series in the winter-spring. This past season has included some lively self-examination - the moral responsibility of TV cameramen to intervene in a suicide attempt, the Wall Street Journal insider stock-buying scandal, the handling of the Jackson campaign, Jacobo Timerman's return to Argentina, and others.
''Inside Story'' has come under some criticism recently because it is alleged that Mr. Carter's outside activities make it more difficult for him to maintain an unbiased posture - he appears occasionally on ABC's ''This Week With David Brinkley'' and recently substituted for Ted Koppel on ''Nightline.'' It is now anticipated that former NBC newsman Ed Newman will share the anchor spot with Carter in the fall season and probably take over in the winter season.
While ''Inside Story'' is the only regularly scheduled program of TV introspection, ABC has what most observers consider the hardest-hitting analyses of television coverage on the air. But it is only shown on a now-and-then basis - usually after Ted Koppel's ''Nightline'' or as a replacement for it.
On July 9, ABC will celebrate the third anniversary of ''Viewpoint,'' its five-times-a-year analysis and criticism of broadcast journalism. George Watson, vice-president of ABC News, told the Monitor that this 15th ''Viewpoint'' will report on a public opinion survey that examines how the public perceives the media - ''what bones people have to pick with television news.'' A panel of leading broadcasters and broadcasting executives, still to be chosen, will take part. But, according to Watson, the barrier has been broken with ''Viewpoint'' and the program can now get ''relevant people from all the networks to take part because for the first time we have pioneered in providing a forum for people with grievances. We are giving them a chance to talk back to the experts. It's something like a newspaper's op ed or letter to the editor page.''
Also, Koppel's ''Nightline'' (ABC, 11:30 p.m.-midnight) manages to examine the media's handling of news events four or five times a year. In recent months Koppel has discussed the media handling of the KAL disaster, the press exclusion from Grenada, and the theft of the White House briefing book.
NBC does little in the way of self-examination, although its new News president Lawrence Grossman promises to be more responsive tooutside criticism. He has inaugurated a daily top-level self- examination of the handling of the news.
Steve Friedman, executive producer of NBC's new summer news magazine show, ''Summer Sunday, USA'' - which will air against ''60 Minutes'' - says that the show will include a media segment. ''Trading Places,'' he told the Monitor, ''will be a regular segment on the show, which will allow people in the news to answer back and tell how TV has handled their stories.''
Eric Ober, a vice-president at CBS News, says that although CBS does not have current plans for a media-examination program, this doesn't rule out such a show in the future.
According to Andrew Lack, executive producer of the forthcoming summer replacement for ''American Parade,'' to be entitled ''Crossroads,'' and featuring Bill Moyers and Charles Kuralt, media criticism ''is not the kind of thing Charlie and Bill will be doing.'' However, if TV's handling of a story becomes part of the Kuralt-Moyers story, they will not hesitate to jump right in , according to Lack.
CBS, however, has been airing an occassional ''Eye on the Media'' series, usually at late-night hours. Producer Bud Benjamin says that ''in recent years we have done 'Business and the Press' and 'Private Lives, Public Press,' using good panels and fine moderators.''
Mr. Benjamin reveals that CBS and Grenada TV of Britain have co-produced two additional ''Eye on the Media'' shows which may never find air time on CBS. Turning them over to PBS for airing is now being contemplated.