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The view from the TV news Titanic

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Columnist Howard Rosenberg wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times that the television news industry is "like the entire Titanic ... going down." Sadly, he is correct.

The dispute over the future of ABC's venerable "Nightline" is the tip of a potential iceberg. And it's sad that defenders of "Nightline" find themselves excoriated as "elitists" whose treasured broadcast is "irrelevant" to American life.

It hardly seems possible that six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, and in the midst of "Operation Anaconda" in Afghanistan, "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel has to assert his program's "relevance."

Since repetition of the obvious appears to be necessary, here is why ABC and its owner, Walt Disney Co., would be committing a shameless act of audience betrayal by removing "Nightline."

This show is one of the last vestiges of quality journalism on American broadcast television. By "quality," I don't mean that it dares to deploy polysyllabic words, treats its audience as responsible citizens, and honors the tradition of American journalism set by Edward R. Murrow - though it accomplishes all of this while making a chunk of money for Disney.

I mean that at a time of 24-hour cable "news speak," "Nightline" serves as one of the last places where viewers can actually find out what is happening in their nation and world. No other broadcast devotes five 30-minute segments to an examination of the plight of Congo; no other broadcast holds town meetings in the Middle East; no other broadcast can be relied upon, night after night, to give viewers a mature understanding of the events shaping an uncertain world.

If "Nightline" departs the airwaves, only "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS will survive as a nightly broadcast looking at news in depth.


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