I appreciate the anchors of the network news shows going to the scene of the "big story." Nothing cheers me up as much as seeing Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings or Sam Donaldson in the hot desert sands of the Middle East giving firsthand reports of what is happening on the front lines.
If I have any problem with the coverage, it is that occasionally the anchors land in the wrong desert.
Then, because they don't want to admit making a mistake, we're all stuck with their reporting on an area where nothing is going on.
The rule of thumb for network anchors is that the news is not where the news is, but where they are. You don't spend thousands of dollars shipping in crews of technicians to a foreign setting only to acknowledge that the anchor is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Let's say the anchor Horace Trotter has been given a tip that the big news on the Mideast will break in Tangier, Morocco. New York makes the decision to send the entire evening news crew to Tangier and announces it will be broadcasting live from there until the Iraqi crisis is over.
When he arrives Horace discovers all the action is coming out of Saudi Arabia. He is not deterred. He interviews a camel driver whose nephew has just slipped through the embargo and delivered a case of maple syrup to Baghdad. The camel driver tells Horace that his nephew was held hostage but managed to escape by giving his captors three legs of lamb and a microwave oven.
After this lead story, the program moves on to the U.S. Embassy where Horace interviews the commander of the U.S. Marine Corps guard detail, a master sergeant, who gives a briefing on the military situation in the region.
Horace then shifts to the university to explain why Tangier plays a key role in the Iraqi war. He brings on a professor from Western Illinois University who specializes in Bedouin camel racing. The professor feels that since Tangier supports the moderate Arab states Iraq will have to give in.
Horace sends the tape back to New York and Flora Delta, his assistant anchor, reports a story on a heart transplant operation between an owner and a Yankees baseball player and a crack bust in Washington during which no video pictures were taken. Then she throws it to Horace for his final commentary.
"It's hot in Tangier," Horace says as he takes off his tie on camera. "It's hot because the sun is hot, and that makes people hot. I've been hot ever since I arrived here, and yet it was the king of Morocco who told me during an exclusive interview in his air-conditioned palace, 'If you can't stand the heat, get out of the desert.'
"Nobody knows what is going to happen in this climate, but we know this much -- the key to everything lies somewhere out there in the sand. Americans have not been asked to land in Tangier, but I have been assured by U.S. military authorities that if they wanted to, they could. Tonight at midnight, we're going to talk to an Algerian communist and a Yemeni capitalist, who will discuss ways out of the mess the area has gotten itself into.
"On behalf of everyone at QBC, this is Horace Trotter bringing you the news when it happens, at the moment it happens. And if we're in Tangier you better believe that's where it's happening."