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SHOULD THE NEWS MEDIA ADVOCATE POLICY POSITIONS?

SHARE SHOULD THE NEWS MEDIA ADVOCATE POLICY POSITIONS?

It's no surprise that the folks at CNN and CBS disagree about who's doing the best job of covering the news. But what is a bit surprising is that they seem to have different ideas of what purpose their jobs serve.

CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, who has been covering the war in Bosnia, believes her employers do it best. "I can tell you that ABC, after us, has been quite consistent in coverage," she said. "CBS and NBC have covered it sporadically."And I think that, had all of us been covering it consistently like CNN has been covering it, it may have made a difference."

She went on to make it clear that she favors intervention by the West - specifically the United States - in the war. And she said that her highly placed sources say the war "could have been stopped very easily" if the "political will" had been there.

CBS' Dan Rather, quite naturally, disagreed with Amanpour about the quality of his network's coverage. And he also had a more fundamental disagreement with her.

"It's not our job to convince people that they should believe this or that about what the country's policy ought to be," Rather said. "Our job is not now, nor has it ever been . . . trying to move the audience to belive X, Y or Z about what the country's policy ought to be. In that sense, our opinion, as Ed Murrow once said, is not worth more than the guy's at the end of the bar."

Which is not to say that Rather believes that accurate, impartial reporting cannot change national policy.

"Here are the facts: American journalism, in general . . . has covered the Bosnia situation very well," he said.

"If we had covered Indochina anywhere near this well in the late 1950s and very early 1960s . . . we might have had a different national policy toward Vietnam."

NO LINGERING EFFECTS: While the scandal over faked explosions of General Motors trucks on a "Dateline NBC" report may have staggered the news magazine for a bit, it certainly didn't knock it out.

As a matter of fact, the ratings for "Dateline" have risen steadily in recent months to levels well above what they were at the time of the trouble.

"Within three weeks, the audience had moved on," said NBC News President Andrew Lack, who got the job when his predecessor, Michael Gartner, resigned in the wake of the "Dateline" scandal.

Lack is obviously pleased, as well as at least a bit surprised, that things have turned out as well as they have.

"They risked their credibility," he said. "But I think they handled the issue professionaly, straightforwardly, as openly and honestly as you would expect. And the audience said, `OK, let's move on.'

"There's no joy in saying this, but every news organization, whether it's CBS or ABC or NBC, has had incidents like this. We are not perfect. We make mistakes, and mistakes were made in this instance, which were recognized, understood, dealt with."

Despite the fact that NBC backed down in the face of legal threats and an advertising pullout on the part of General Motors, Lack said the incident will not have a chilling effect on the way NBC News does its job.

"And I can tell you that in our discussions, in terms of the stories we're going after, there's absolutely no shrinking from going after the important stories, no matter who's involved, no matter what company is involved," Lack said.

"That's what our mandate is. That's what our mission is. And that's what we do for a living."

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Barbra Streisand and Glenn Close will be the executive producers - and Close will star in - what promises to be a particularly controversial made-for-TV movie.

"The Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer Story" will relate the true story of the 26-year Army veteran - the highest-ranking woman in the armed forces, according to NBC - who was expelled from the Army when she admitted she is a lesbian.

This will be the first TV movie Streisand will produce. No air date has been announced, except that NBC says it will air sometime during the 1993-94 television season.