Nov 1 1998

Forget Murphy Brown

Kent Brockman is reality programming

“Now that she is no longer doing Murphy Brown, it dawned on me that she may want to do a story or two for us,” 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt told New York magazine (8/17/98). Once they spot a story “worth her doing,” they’ll give actress Candice Bergen “a chance to do it.”

Will Brown–er, Bergen–fit in as a real journalist? She spent years playing a reporter who relentlessly tried to embarrass the powerful, who was twice banned from the White House. Brown purportedly punched out Jeanne Kirkpatrick and cut her own hair just to tick off her network bosses.

Such a depiction of a big-name reporter is a fantasy that borders on disinformation. Murphy Brown, with its notion that journalists are a bunch of former hippies bent on exposing wrongdoing in high places, has been no bit player in advancing the myth of a “liberal media.”

If the networks are going to blur the all-but-invisible line between news and entertainment, they should at least choose a fictional reporter who will fit into today’s media environment. We nominate the Simpsons‘ Kent Brockman, anchor of Springfield’s Smartline and Action News. Among Kent’s qualifications:


Knows the power of language:

Brockman:Hello, I’m KENT BROCKMAN! Our top stories tonight: a tremendous EXPLOSION (in the price of lumber), President Reagan DYES (his hair, says Garry Trudeau in his new musical comedy review). But first, let’s check the DEATH COUNT from the KILLER STORM, bearing down on us like a SHOTGUN full of snow.Weatherman: “Well, Kent, as of now, the death count is … zero, but it’s ready to shoot right up.”

Brockman: “Oh my God! Damn you, snow!”


Keeps viewers intrigued:

On the 11 o’clock news tonight: A certain kind of soft drink has been found to be lethal. We won’t tell you which one until after sports and the weather with funny Sonny Storm.

Impeccable news judgment: When a boy trapped in a well captures the nation’s imagination, Brockman announces:

Channel Six‘s own Krusty the Clown has gathered members of the entertainment community—who normally steer clear of such fashionable causes—for a video called “We’re Sending Our Love Down a Well.”

Later, when the boy down in the well turns out to be Bart Simpson, the media turn their attention to a squirrel that looks like Abe Lincoln. When citizens band together to dig Bart out, Kent comes on with a news flash:

This is Kent Brockman with a special news bulletin. The Lincoln Squirrel has been assassinated! We’ll stay with this story all night if we have to!


Puts issues in perspective:

Could this record-breaking heatwave be the result of the dreaded “Greenhouse Effect”? Well, if 70-degree days in the middle of winter are the “price” of car pollution, you’ll forgive me if I keep my old Pontiac.


Able to concisely frame the debate:

Hello, I’m Kent Brockman, and welcome to another edition of Smartline. Are cartoons too violent for children? Most people would say: “No. Of course not. What kind of stupid question is that?” But one woman says “Yes.” Marge Simpson.

Willing to admit when he doesn’t have all the facts: When Homer is falsely accused of sexual harassment, a less ethical journalist, Godfrey Jones of Rock Bottom, splices together a bogus confession, while the Fox network offers a sensationalistic TV movie: Homer S.: Portrait of an Ass-Grabber. But Kent maintains his journalistic standards:

This is hour 57 of our live, round-the-clock coverage outside the Simpson estate. Remember, by the way, to tune in at 8 o’clock for highlights of today’s vigil, including when the garbageman came and when Marge Simpson put the cat out. Possibly because it was harassed, we don’t know.

Willing to admit mistakes: When Homer narrowly averts a nuclear meltdown, plant owner Montgomery Burns tells Brockman that it was all a “false alarm.” The anchor is apologetic:

Well, sir, your point about nuclear hysteria is well taken. This reporter promises to be more trusting and less vigilant in the future.

Thinks fast under pressure: When Brockman mistakenly believes that gigantic ants from outer space are poised to take over the Earth, he doesn’t miss a beat: “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.”

When he realizes that he was mistaken about the giant ants, he issues a timely retraction: “This reporter was possibly a little hasty earlier, and would like to reaffirm his allegiance to this country and its human president.”


Sam Husseini amazes and annoys his friends by muttering Simpsons lines as the characters say them.