Thomas Fenton has been a foreign correspondent for CBS News since 1970; prior to that he worked for the Baltimore Sun, after an earlier career as an officer in the U.S. Navy. In his career with CBS he has covered nearly every major European and Middle Eastern story of the day -- from the 1966 Six Day War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has covered hundreds of international summits, natural disasters, riots, the civil war in Northern Ireland, famine in Africa, the intifada in Palestine, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the death of Princess Diana, the end of Communism in the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and now the new American crusade against terror. Fenton is the recipient of four Emmy Awards, a Columbia University Dupont Award, a Georgetown University Weintal Award, and numerous Overseas Press Club awards for his reporting. Fenton and his wife have two children, both of whom have followed him into the television news business. He is currently based in London, England.
What makes this discourse on the current state of broadcast news such a gripping read is not that it critiques the establishment-it's the specific nature of Fenton's complaint. The author, who's been reporting for CBS News for 34 years, accuses the industry not just of having a political bias, but of being supremely lazy and incompetent. Fenton shares his own opinions, but buttresses them with sharp interviews from the Big Three (Brokaw, Rather, Jennings) and elder statesman Cronkite, who, not surprisingly, is most forthcoming, admitting he doesn't even watch the CBS Evening News anymore: "Nothing there but crime and sob sister material." Fenton lays out the hows and whys of what he sees as the problems present in today's news media (largely broadcast news) with exacting logic. After the end of the Cold War, an unfortunate confluence of factors-including the lack of a pervasive threat that might keep audiences attuned to foreign news, a growing herd mentality within the media, and "cutbacks, bottom-line fever, and CEO-mandated news criteria"-resulted in an industrywide dumbing-down and a decline in ratings. Along with this well-structured explanation of what's wrong and how to fix it, Fenton also provides a convenient guide to the biggest underreported stories and why they're important. (Mar. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.