Archive for Thursday, October 11, 2001

Media coverage topic of discussion

October 11, 2001

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"Journalists need to find a balance between freedom and responsibility," said Charles Marsh, Kansas University associate professor of journalism.

Marsh was one of two KU faculty members who spoke Wednesday at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.

Marsh and Lorraine Bayard de Volo, assistant professor of political science, said they thought the media generally have done a good job of covering the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. But the biggest challenges lie ahead, covering military response to the attacks.

"Our understanding of the truth of events relies overwhelmingly on the news media," Bayard de Volo said.

Both panelists said it would be in the government's interest to provide more information to journalists. Remaining tight-lipped, they said, may backfire on the government because reporters then might rely more on alternate sources.

While reporters shouldn't be content relying on government sources, Marsh said they also shouldn't ask such questions as, "Will the invasion of ground troops begin tomorrow?"

"It doesn't make journalists look very good," he said. "'Let's endanger the lives of our troops' seems to be the subtext of that question."

Marsh said he thought the media -- especially television -- learned a lot from its coverage of ballot-counting in Florida at the end of the 2000 presidential election. Now, reporters are more likely to point out when information is unconfirmed.

Bayard de Volo said she thought one bad moment for the media was when CNN aired video of a group of Palestinians celebrating the attacks on the United States.

"It was a very effective way to rally our nation to war, but war against whom?" she asked. "They didn't show the people expressing condolences or even mourning all over the Muslim world."

She also said she was concerned the media would focus too much on "episodic" coverage -- events that make good images for television -- and less on "thematic" coverage, or analysis of issues or the social makeup of the countries involved.

Bayard de Volo said some government officials have called those who question policies "unpatriotic." But, she said, such skepticism is characteristic of a healthy democracy.

"Free speech and free press can be under attack not only by proposals by our attorney general but by appeals to patriotism," she said.

-- Staff writer Terry Rombeck can be reached at 832-7145.

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