This has been the first war in which "people in Kansas City have [information] as fast as the president does," says Judy Woodruff, chief Washington correspondent for PBS' "MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour." And that phenomenon, she added, in the evenhanded style characteristic of her show, has both a positive and a negative side.
Speaking at Westminster Hall, as part of a noontime lecture series sponsored by the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Ms. Woodruff pointed out that television coverage of this war is unprecedented in its immediacy and ubiquitousness.
"Television is really determining how this war story is told, how people understand the war, how the people who are conducting the war understand it," she said. "More people have more information about this war, and they have it faster."
At the same time, she noted, the constant coverage has been an undigested diet of bits and pieces.
"It's the television equivalent of reading a reporter's notebook, before the reporter has gone through the notes, decided what's important and what's extraneous. You're getting a lot more information than you need, or have time to process.
"I would be the last person to argue against the public's having access to all the information; that genie is out of the bottle. But sometimes it is truly more than people want to deal with," she continued. "Are we prepared as information consumers to deal with this?"
In person, the 44-year-old Woodruff is somewhat less intense than she appears on television, but no less crisp and to the point. She joined MacNeil/Lehrer in 1983, after a brief stint as Washington correspondent for the "Today" show, following a five-year assignment as NBC's White House correspondent. (She says she doesn't watch the "Today" show much these days.) She also was anchor of PBS' "Frontline" between 1984 and 1990.
Interviewed by telephone last week from her office in Arlington, Va., she emphasized the importance of news analysis to put the constant news feed into perspective, as she believes MacNeil/Lehrer does.
While she has been a political reporter for most of her career, she described her own position on the show is as generalist rather than expert: "My job description is to cover anything that moves in Washington on a given day."
That can include AIDS, cancer research, child care policy, energy, the environment, U.S.-Soviet relations or the war, all of which have political elements, she said, "not in terms of elections, but in terms of the leadership and decision-making."