Go to the movies and you have a choice of journalisms: On the one hand, Veronica Guerin, with Cate Blanchett as the crusading reporter who was gunned down in 1996 for her newspaper stories on drug trafficking in Dublin. On the other, Shattered Glass, with Hayden Christensen as Stephen Glass, who, by writing fiction that was published as fact, not only embarrassed The New Republic but also disappointed Chloë Sevigny. After more than 40 years in cold type, I can assure you that while most of us think of ourselves as martyrs, we are nowhere near (and much less thrilling than) either of these extremes, the Guerin or the Glass. So when we sit down to watch Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Anne Garrels, and Christiane Amanpour tell us about reporters who died covering difficult stories in Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil, Israel, and Iraq, we flatter ourselves.
According to Journalists: Killed in the Line of Duty (Tuesday, November 25; 9 to 10 p.m.; Trio), which has been produced with the cooperation and resources of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 46 reporters lost their lives on the job between January 2002 and April 2003. Of these, six are profiled. Of the six, the three most interesting stories are so because they are the least familiar—Edgar Damalerio, who ignored death threats to write about corruption in the Philippines, where wasting journalists is almost a sport, and was shot by a police officer; Raffaele Ciriello, an Italian photographer of desolate war zones, who met an Israeli tank on a street in Ramallah and took six rounds in the stomach; and Tim Lopes, the TV reporter who took a hidden camera into the slums of Rio to videotape drug-dealing and child prostitution and would be kidnapped and dismembered for the trouble he made.
This leaves Taras Protsyuk, the Ukrainian cameraman for Reuters who was killed in Baghdad by a shell from an American tank that had apparently decided his hotel balcony was a spotting post for the Iraqi Army, even though the Pentagon knew that particular hotel was full of journalists. (Just because our Department of Defense hasn’t released the findings of its investigation into this matter doesn’t mean a TV documentary couldn’t have done its own sleuthing.) And David Bloom, the boyish and engaging NBC correspondent who ignored a blood clot in his leg to race across the Iraqi desert and died not from a bullet or a bomb but an embolism. (I don’t see exactly how this fits into the documentary, although I do see why everybody misses him so much.) And finally Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who went to Karachi at precisely the time it was most dangerous for an American, especially a Jewish American, to be there.
Why, one wonders, are we spared the datum that Daniel Pearl’s throat was cut on camera, when not a single detail is withheld of what was done in Rio to Tim Lopes, as if he were Rasputin? Maybe the assumption is that we have heard it all already. But those of us who saw that video, and wish we hadn’t, know the moment to be proof of damnation, of an assassin’s soul so corrupt it can’t be saved by any religion. Which doesn’t mean we’ll write a meretricious book about it as self-aggrandizing as Bernard-Henri Lévy’s Who Killed Daniel Pearl?, in which a fabulist as woozy as a Stephen Glass superscribes a racism and a religious bigotry worthy of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Yet Pearl’s is the face we see when we close the computer on yet more words about, say, the Paris Hilton sex tape.
But even these discrepancies of emphasis and significance are beside the point of a journalism increasingly subordinate to the entertainment matrix in a monopoly environment made possible by a deregulatory government duly grateful that we swallow its spin and sail on into chortle, jingle, and the screaming buy-me-sell-me me-mes. No wonder, in order to choose Life After War (Monday, December 1; 9 to 10:15 p.m.; Sundance), Sarah Chayes quit her job as a correspondent for NPR, after Algeria, Lebanon, Israel, Serbia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. There she was in Afghanistan. She stopped writing and started doing something about the craters around her, as field director of the Kandahar office of Afghans for Civil Society, building villages instead of bombing. This is how we save our souls, the exact opposite of slitting throats.
Livermore (November 25; 10 to 11 p.m.; Channel 13) visits a Northern California community with a backstory actually worth nostalgizing, a rancher-suburbanite culture clash, an admixture of nuclear physicists who have rendered the world much less safe, a totem pole, and a time capsule, only one of them missing.
In Search of the Jaguar (November 26; 8 to 9 p.m.; Channel 13) follows Glenn Close, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, and National Geographic to rain forests, swamplands, and animal preserves in Panama, Brazil, and Belize, on the trail of a vanishing cat, the third largest left in nature.
At the Drive-In (November 28; 9 to 10:30 p.m.; WLIW 21) sits still in Austin, Texas, for a concert featuring late-fifties, early-sixties beach tunes, teen ballads, and pimply rock from Jan & Dean, Bobby Vee, the Rip Chords, the Orlons, Dodie Stevens, and Merrilee Rush (“Be My Baby”). Fabian himself is our host. Must be pledge time.
Stealing Christmas (November 30; 8 to 10 p.m; USA) requires Tony Danza, a thief, to pretend to be Santa on a Christmas-tree lot owned by single mom Lea Thompson, while he figures out how to rob the bank, except, of course … You guessed it!
Finding John Christmas (November 30; 9 to 11 p.m.; CBS) requires Peter Falk once more to play the part of the angel Max, who shows up in small towns to help people like Valerie Bertinelli find long-lost firefighting brothers like William Russ just in time to egg a nog.
Comfort and Joy (December 1; 8 to 10 p.m.; Lifetime) requires career woman Nancy McKeon to be knocked unconscious on Christmas Eve and wake up a married homemaker with two heretofore unknown children. Dixie Carter is her difficult mother, Paul Dooley her indulgent father, and Steven Eckholdt a nice-enough husband out of nowhere. Lifetime is outside looking for its feminism.
WORLD AIDS DAY (December 1) includes To Live Is Better Than to Die (7 to 8 p.m.; Cinemax), which follows one HIV-infected family for a year in rural China, where an epidemic is in the works; The Courage to Live: Kids, South Africa and AIDS (9 to 9:30 p.m.; Nickelodeon), reported by Linda Ellerbee; AIDS: A Pop Culture History (9 to 10 p.m.; VH1), hosted by Ashley Judd; and A Walk in Your Shoes—Living With HIV/AIDS (9:30 to 10 p.m.; Noggin), about two 18-year-olds, one of whom has to teach the other how to live with being positive.