Hal Fishman 1931-2007; The Primordial Soup Remembers an Advocate

KTLA anchor Hal Fishman dead at 75 | Los Angeles Times

It is an awful thing to rejoice in another human’s demise, and that is not the intent of this essay’s writer. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to feel a sense of relief at the demise of a mainstream newscaster who had made the spreading of ignorance the primary purpose of his life in his final years. Hal Fishman, the famed anchorman of the ten o’clock news hour on channel five in Los Angeles is the subject, and his death feels like a blessing for the utterly anesthetized citizens of Los Angeles.

Although the thinking denizens of this city had long ago tuned away from the inane commercial blather that has passed for local broadcast news in Los Angeles, Fishman’s presence was singularly vexing in this lanscape of stupidity because he refused to hold the line at commercial blather. He insisted on disseminating an altogether common and utterly senseless ignorance in the guise of news analysis–the acceptance and the repeating of which by many in the primordial soup has been a source of anguish for the thinking members of this city since September 11, 2001. Fishman’s manifest existence as an irresponsible news director, a horribly misinformed reporter and a man radically deficient in faculties of reason and compassion is missing from all the obituaries that have been written. Perhaps, this post will set the record straight.

The Channel 5 News at Ten was a venerable news program, until Fishman became the news director some twenty years ago. On his watch, world news was reduced from a quarter of the broadcast to a minute while Los Angeles became the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. Fishman greeted the influx of Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, Persians, Japanese, Israelis, Armenians, Russians and countless other nationalities with a reduction in the coverage of global events. As the American and especially the Californian economy became ever more dependent on global politics, Fishman deprived viewers of the information they needed to understand their own city.

At the same time KTLA became a member of the new Warner Brothers television network, and Fishman spinelessly went along with corporate directives to promote the networks programming during the news hour. Consequently, the raw news content of the news hour was reduced to less than twenty minutes of news and nearly forty minutes of advertising posing as “entertainment news” and sports advertising masquerading as “sports news”. Naturally, as the foreigners were driven to the international channels to get international news, Fishman and the rest of the management justified this stupidity on grounds of ratings.

To compensate for this demise, Fishman elected to speak his mind on subjects as inane as Britney Spears and as profound as military strategy in Iraq. In the former case, Fishman exhibited unbelievable hypocrisy, and in the latter he displayed his prejudices and his ignorance as proudly and as conspicuously as a peacock.

Fishman was the consummate curmudgeon when he complained about all the attention that Britney Spears was receiving from the press. Yet, he allowed the prime time news hour to be hijacked for the sake of advertising by the CW network bosses. It was on Fishman’s watch that half of the News at Ten (and the entirety of the KTLA morning “news”) became advertising space for Warner Brothers products. Fishman complained, but he never complained about the corporate overlords to whom he had capitulated when he allowed his news program to be used in the service of people like Spears.

Fishman also never cared to reconcile his half-baked patriotic ideas with the realities of world and war. In one salient instance, when a New York Times article that the insurrection in Iraq had reduced some cities to virtual “ghost towns”, Fishman advocated the carpet bombing of these cities because this action would have minimal “collateral damage” and because carpet bombing of cities like Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin had won World War II. Fishman even went so far as to claim that such carpet bombing wins wars.

Apparently Fishman was unaware that historians (civil and miliatry) have assessed the indiscriminate bombing of German and Japanese towns as strategically useless in WW II. Germany ultimately succumbed because its production of munitions, fuel and soldiers was insufficient for a fight on two fronts. Similarly, Japan’s resolve was not weakened by the firebombing of the country, but by the specter of the atomic bomb. No historian has ever claimed that indiscriminate bombing of civilians win wars. Why would they? The strategy had no effect in WW II and disastrous effect in Vietnam.

Nevertheless, Fishman felt emboldened to speak something that was completely and utterly false on the air. One can offer a great many reasons for why he did so, but it is difficult to ascribe such comments to anything other than ignorance born of misplaced patriotism and arrogance.

These elements suffused nearly every commentary Fishman ever made. He never bothered to correct the record, or to make his remarks more considered. When I corrected him by bringing to his attention that his remarks regarding Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction had been thoroughly and absolutely refuted by the WMD Commission years prior, he only responded by saying that he may take those findings into consideration. In as much, Fishman spent his later years not just as a lousy commentator, but a decidedly incompetent reporter. 

What a shame that the man felt compelled to forego the legacy he had built through many good years in the seventies and eighties. May Hal Fishman rest in peace, and may his legacy be defined by the good years he had; not the miserable final years. People should not forget, however, what an instrumental role he played in the destruction of the news service in Los Angeles.

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