Sunday, August 21, 2005

BOB COSTAS: HERO

I wasn't going to talk about Bob Costas' big walkout on Larry King Live, but since AP did a story on it and even NealeNews picked it up, I figured I might as well rant about it, too. I've been reading the reactions by the usual newsroom-type people over on TVSpy and Medialine, and lots of people are cheering Costas on for having the balls to walk out of there last week.

Bob, as some of you know, is the new and permanent substitute-host of Larry King Live these days, in addition to all the sports stuff he usually does for NBC, HBO and everywhere else. What got him riled up was that the subject matter for his scheduled hosting appearance was the Natalee Holloway missing-in-Aruba story. That story has been dominating cable TV. Greta Van Susteren has been doing stories on this case all the time on her show over at Fox News, and she has been absolutely cleaning up. All the soccer moms with kids are tuning in and worried about their kids going to Aruba on their vacations, and so Fox News immediately hopped on the story with their usual overkill and everyone went bananas. Everyone else has to keep up with Greta, so they can blunt her big ratings.

The problem is that this boring missing-persons case has been done to death. It was important for about a week, but to keep doing this is just overkill. It's no longer news and the subject matter is gory and really depressing, and they're making Aruba look like a dangerous, terrible place, which it is not. It says a lot when a news junkie like myself says "I am not interested in this story, this is pointless." At least when all the news stations reported on gun violence and murders in Toronto, it was news. The mayor and community leaders were compelled to get involved to stop this wave of violence. That's why it was important to cover it, because the community was being ravaged. But this Aruba story is all sensationalism.

Well, it's been reported that Bob Costas told the producers at LKL he wasn't going to do the show, he didn't like the subject matter. LKL said okay,we'll have you back some other time. They went ahead with a substitute for the substitute, and had their whole sleazy show on the Aruba missing persons case.

This reminds me of another sports guy, Keith Olbermann, over at MSNBC during his first stint at that channel. He had to do the sleazy Monica Lewinsky scandal story every night on his show and he was completely fed up. It soured him on doing news and he promptly gave up the news business in disgust and went back to doing sports, over at Fox.

He eventually returned, though, and I heard that as part of the deal Olbermann was given assurances that his new MSNBC show wouldn't have to do any more of the sleaze stories that his old show was stuck with. I guess Olbermann had no choice in the old days, he had no clout. He was just this ex-sports guy they just hired away from ESPN.

Costas, however, is a giant in the business. Among other things, he hosted Later over on NBC, interviewing guests from a wide range of backgrounds. He's hosted the OLYMPIC GAMES. He associates his good name and reputation with quality productions. So he has enough clout to be able to walk off a set in disgust if a story is sleazy enough. Anyway, lots of news people love the fact that he stood up to CNN and walked out. Costas is being hailed as a hero and a man of journalistic integrity, a champion of news values.

It's really odd when it's the sports guys who are the big champions of hard news values these days. This whole Costas incident sort of reminds me of why I soured on news: I hated doing the crime stories and non-news news. I had to cover lots of garbage and made a nuisance of myself. But when I did sports I actually was able to do long sit-down interviews with interesting people for TV and maintained a shred of my own dignity. Maybe I'm less of a tabloid artist than I think I am. Deep down I have the same approach to the news and broadcasting business that Costas and Olbermann have: take a populist approach, but don't lower myself to the ocean depths like some other people in the business.

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