Synopses & Reviews
In his long journalistic experience as the senior European correspondent for CBS News, Tom Fenton has reported on everything from the fall of the Shah of Iran to the movements of al Qaeda throughout Europe a story he was tracking before 9/11. And in the three years since that fateful day, he has come to a sobering realization: Our once-noble news media and network TV news in particular have abdicated their responsibility to the American people, and endangered us in the process.
As Fenton points out, much of the United States still depends on the networks for most of its information about the world. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, the networks gutted their news-gathering operations just as the old Cold War status quo was shattering leaving behind an unstable and violent new world order. Once a public service, the network news was commandeered by its corporate parents as a cash cow. In-depth reporting on critical issues was replaced with saturation coverage of sensationalistic crime stories and simpleminded "news you can use." Even as genocide spread through Africa and Islamic terror festered in the Middle East international reporting disappeared almost entirely from the airwaves. And Americans were left uninformed, unable to judge the accuracy of politically biased stories (on both sides of the spectrum), and utterly unprepared for the war on terror about to descend on their doorstep.
In Bad News, Tom Fenton offers a fiery indictment of just how far "the news" has fallen. As a frequent voice in the wilderness himself who fought in vain to interest CBS in an Osama bin Laden interview in the 1990s Fenton reveals a news-gathering environment gutted by corporate bottom-lining bottom-feeders, staffed by dilatory producers and executives (who dismissed important stories as depressing or obscure), and dangerously dependent on images and information gathered by third-party sources. In hard-hitting interviews with Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, and Tom Brokaw, he exposes how even the anchors themselves believed they were outlandishly compensated while quality coverage was being slashed. And he charges that the news media must lose its entertainment-industry mindset and reestablish its role as a keeper of the public trust.
"This is not just a book," writes Fenton. "This is the beginning of a campaign to galvanize America. We need more and better news. Our lives depend on it."
"What makes this discourse on the current state of broadcast news such a gripping read is not that it critiques the establishment it's the specific nature of Fenton's complaint. The author, who's been reporting for CBS News for 34 years, accuses the industry not just of having a political bias, but of being supremely lazy and incompetent. Fenton shares his own opinions, but buttresses them with sharp interviews from the Big Three (Brokaw, Rather, Jennings) and elder statesman Cronkite, who, not surprisingly, is most forthcoming, admitting he doesn't even watch the CBS Evening News anymore: 'Nothing there but crime and sob sister material.' Fenton lays out the hows and whys of what he sees as the problems present in today's news media (largely broadcast news) with exacting logic. After the end of the Cold War, an unfortunate confluence of factors including the lack of a pervasive threat that might keep audiences attuned to foreign news, a growing herd mentality within the media, and 'cutbacks, bottom-line fever, and CEO-mandated news criteria' resulted in an industrywide dumbing-down and a decline in ratings. Along with this well-structured explanation of what's wrong and how to fix it, Fenton also provides a convenient guide to the biggest underreported stories and why they're important." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"To his credit, Fenton does an excellent job within the narrow purview he has chosen. Fenton won four Emmys in a career spanning 34 years, and he still believes in such old-school ideas as Truth and Objectivity....Such dedication to the news itself is unfortunately rare in many recent critiques of the media, which are usually little more than attacks on the print and broadcast establishment from partisans of the left or right. Fenton's earnestness has a certain nobility. But ultimately Fenton, like the rest of the media-criticism crowd, leaves the big questions unaddressed. Lippmann first raised them in 1922. We're still waiting for answers." Alexander Barnes Dryer, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
At a time when the world has been blindsided by failures of intelligence, a veteran CBS News correspondent reveals how the news media has betrayed our trust and endangered our democracy. Much of American still gets its news from the networks. But in the years leading to 9/11, the coverage of terrorism was sporadic at best, focusing on acts of terror rather than the people and movements that caused them. It was Washington's job to connect the dots, Fenton argues, but it was the news business's job to track the story and watchdog the government's vigiliance and both sides failed. Fenton charges that the news media must change its perspective from that of an entertainment industry offshoot to that of a keeper of the public trust. And he argues that his industry must foster a new patriotic skepticism, one that will both inform the people and help Washington defend the country better.
About the Author
has been a foreign correspondent for CBS News since 1970; prior to that he worked for the Baltimore Sun, after an earlier career as an officer in the U.S. Navy. In his career with CBS he has covered nearly every major European and Middle Eastern story of the day -- from the 1966 Six Day War to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has covered hundreds of international summits, natural disasters, riots, the civil war in Northern Ireland, famine in Africa, the intifada in Palestine, the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the death of Princess Diana, the end of Communism in the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and now the new American crusade against terror.
Fenton is the recipient of four Emmy Awards, a Columbia University Dupont Award, a Georgetown University Weintal Award, and numerous Overseas Press Club awards for his reporting.
Fenton and his wife have two children, both of whom have followed him into the television news business. He is currently based in London, England.