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A Silly Business All Around

Backdrops: Live or Computer Generated? And what difference does it make?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 16, 1994.

Two ABC news media types were severely chastised by their bosses for perpetuating a minor hoax on the public. Cokie Roberts, the daughter of Senator Hale Boggs and as inside as is possible to get in Washington, filmed an ABC White House report from a studio instead of from in front of the White House. What she did was put on a coat and stand in front of a picture of the White House generated by computer behind her. She was pretending to actually be there, but she wasn't. Criminal, vile, deception.

What is criminal and vile is that perfectly good money would be spent to send Ms. Roberts and a camera team down to the white house to film that cliche ridden backdrop. What precisely was violated by faking it? Well, it was a lie, but did it at all interfere or affect the story supposedly essential for the public to know? Of course not. The big hypocrisy here is that the story is better with location narration. Only children believe that. At a time when news people, especially the self regarding martyrs sacrificing goats to the memory of Ed Murrow at CBS, whine about there not being enough foreign bureaus and money in general, perhaps they ought to look at the immeasurable waste of money that they approve every day. Location shots are silly beyond recognition value; surely it does not increase understanding of the story or increase the research budgets. It's stupid.

Surely the most egregious example are the helicopters owned by the local stations in Denver. What precisely is their value? Well, you get to see how vastly different each day's rush hour is. You get to hear tearful stories of some ridiculous rescue or search that these Maytag repairmen finally get to do that could be recognized as something of importance. Once every few years they get to search for the flaming wreckage of one of their own which was off to get - first hand mind you - the reflections of some high school football coach whose team just took home its first league trophy in Ringworm County history, and caught in a snowstorm or downdraft - something that somehow was never forecast by the infernal weather computers, also another waste of cash. And all those rumors about alcohol in the crashes never seem to get the coverage you'd think, either. And there's just no money for investigation.

If anyone should be punished, it's the news directors for demanding time and money be wasted for such ridiculous backdrops. Why standing in the cold, pointlessly outside the gates is somehow more responsible than sitting four blocks away, still outside the gates is beyond understanding. Unless, of course, they're trying to fool us into thinking they just left the White House where they got all this information first hand instead of from the flack handout by a press secretary. A silly business, all around.