Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Terrific Reporting By LAT, PBS And NBC In Virginia

Two TV networks, NBC and PBS, are having a brilliant week, with their coverage of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech and their coverage of issues raised by the wars against Islamic terrorists, respectively. The L.A. Times has also done magnificently.

The difficulties of the effort to deal with nihilists mark both matters The world is having a terrible time confronting madmen, be they a lone shooter at an American college campus, or the institutionalized madness and brutality by the terrorists in the Middle East,

That NBC has been doing a fantastic job of covering the massacre of Virginia Tech will be evident to everyone watching it. Led on scene by its outstanding and morally sensitive anchor, Bryan Williams, NBC has turned up one remarkable interview after another and brought home to everyone the tragedy of this event, 31 innocent and often remarkable people brought down by one deranged killer. Then, on Wednesday, NBC was the recipient of the last mailing of the killer, a photo-filled and rambling monologue on his hatreds.

L.A. Times coverage of the tragic events was massive and eloquent, especially the story written by Stephanie Simon, who is always superb in the most trying circumstances. The Times got a substantial reporting staff to Virginia Tech and, I believe, overwhelmed the New York Times coverage. Usually, the New York Times is not outdone on its disaster coverage. This time, it was.

But PBS's two-hour programs, 9 to 11, each night this week, "America At A Crossroads," on the nation trying, not very successfully, to combat Al Qaeda and other Islamic fanatics have been just as compelling.

There have been remarkable scenes in the series, especially of frustrated U.S. military commanders who have been trying their best to train and encourage the Iraqi army and police, only to be confronted with their incompetence, laziness, lack of dedication and, often, outright devotion to terrorist sectarianism.

There was one instance in the show last night where a U.S. Army officer tried vainly to block an Iraqi police detail from leaving his post, each of its members wearing a mask. He knew they were on the way not to police but to conduct a sectarian terror mission, out to kidnap and kill.

Last night also, PBS devoted an hour to allowing Richard Perle, an Iraq war proponent, to confront the opposition to the war. Perle did a good job of pointing out why the U.S. is fighting the war, but the overall impression created by this series is that the war is being lost, and that the most nilihistic elements are in charge in Iraq.

Also another salient feature of the series is that it conveys much more clearly to the audience the look of Iraq and the war than does the two-minute reports on nightly network television. The time PBS is devoting to the subject has everything to do with that, just like NBC was able to make such good use last night of a special one-hour nightly news on the Virginia Tech massacre.

Then, we got up this morning, and the news from Baghdad was of new bombings in marketplaces, killing 183 people. The AP story said that despite the new U.S. security drive, the death toll in the Iraqi capital is mounting back toward the period just before the crackdown began.

It is difficult enough inside America to confront the nihilists. Cho Seung Hui uncomfortably reminds me of Lee Harvey Oswald. Both gave those who observed them all kinds of reasons to be terribly concerned about their behavior, long before they exploded and committed their terrible acts. Yet society seemed incapable of acting soon enough to head them off.

We are not doing, as the PBS series shows, a more effective job of heading off the dire threat posed by the terrorists, who, if they get nuclear weapons, may well choose to undertake a "first strike" against the U.S. or other Western countries.

A normally reasonable man I know told me last week that if the U.S. was attacked by nuclear weapons, all the Arabs in the world would be quickly annihilated.

Let's pray it never comes to that, but it could unless we learn much better than we have so far how to stop the madmen before they commit their worst crimes.

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