The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 officially ended the Cold War, and serves as a metaphor for journalism in the 1990's. As the last great symbol of autocratic authority and censorship appeared to be vanquished, the dawning of the Internet Age introduced unprecedented freedom in the sharing of information.
Many trends from the 1980's continued, including increased consolidation of media companies, declining newspaper readership, and increased cable options for television viewers. CNN became an equal player in television news with its coverage of the Gulf War, while the major networks saw the beginning of the end of the reign of the news anchor.
The economy created many new millionaires during the Internet boom, and saw many others lose their fortunes when the tech bubble burst. The rumblings of terrorism, both foreign and domestic, were a harbinger of things to come in the new millennium.
Brokaw served as anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News. Sole anchor of the program from 1983 through 2004, he had previously been anchor of NBC News Today from 1976-1982 and had worked in a series of increasingly prominent assignments for NBC news. Brokaw's distinctively smooth style and boyish charm made him a well-recognized star throughout the shifting sands of television news in the 1980s and 1990s.
Very few names in broadcast journalism are as recognizable as Peter Jennings. His father, Charles, was the most prominent radio announcer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Thus, it seems perhaps predictable that Peter Jennings would have his own successful career in the news industry. In an unprecedented rise to the top, Jennings, at 27, became the youngest ABC Evening News anchor. For his work, Jennings won several Emmy and Overseas Press Club Awards, and the prestigious Alfred I. DuPont Columbia University Award for journalism. In 1989, a Times Mirror poll found Jennings to bet he most believable source of news. Jennings was also named "best anchor" by the Washington Journalism Review in 1988,1990, and 1992.
Dan Rather replaced the venerable Walter Cronkite as the anchor for the The CBS Evening News in 1981. Rather also served as reporter and host for prime-time news programs such as 48 Hours and 60 Minutes (with Mike Wallace), making him one of American television's most prominent journalists for five decades. Known for his determination, emotion and folksy metaphors, Rather also became a lightning rod for criticism by conservatives, who charged that he was politically biased in his reporting. Rather was teamed with Connie Chung as co-anchor on CBS for a brief time (1994-1995) In 1990, Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein as the United States prepared to attack Iraq. Rather stepped down as anchor of the CBS Evening News on March 9, 2005, 24 years to the day he took over for Cronkite.
By the time the Gulf War started, Arnett was a decorated veteran journalist, having won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting for his coverage of the Vietnam War. At the beginning of the Gulf War, Arnett, Bernard Shaw and John Holliman were the only journalists reporting live from Baghdad as the bombs and rockets fell into the city. A week after the start of the war, Arnett interviewed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, which along with his coverage of civilian casualties, earned him the scorn of the Bush administration and several prominent Congressmen. In 1997 Arnett interviewed Osama bin Laden.
Shaw joined CNN during it's infancy in 1980 as an anchor. One of his early successes included CNN's coverage of the attempt on President Reagan's life in 1981. Unlike the big three network news programs, CNN and Shaw did not incorrectly report that James Brady had died during the shooting. Shaw joined Peter Arnett and John Holliman in a hotel room to broadcast around the clock in Baghdad while U.S. bombs fell around them during the Gulf War of 1990-1991. He retired from CNN in 2001.
Canadian correspondent Arthur Kent reported for NBC during the First Gulf War. Although he possessed a reputation as a solid reporter, it was his looks that got him noticed during the conflict, and won him the nickname, the "scud stud". Kent was not able to transform his popularity into a successful television career, and left NBC. Disillusioned with network news, he would later produce documentaries for The History Channel, and report for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
Brian Williams was a fast-rising star as the White House correspondent on NBC News when he took an unusual career turn for an aspiring nightly anchor. He accepted an offer to become anchor on an all-news cable channel launched in 1996 by NBC and Microsoft. Most journalists traveled in the other direction, from cable to network news, but Williams had no trouble making the decision to front his own hour-long news program on MSNBC, The News with Brian Williams. He eventually took over for Tom Brokaw when he retired as the NBC news anchor.
Chung's early career included a stint as a CBS correspondent in Washington D.C. during the Watergate scandal. After working in Los Angeles, followed by an early morning host position with NBC, Chung returned to CBS to become the second woman (after Barbara Walters) to co-anchor a nightly news program. Chung's tenure was not without controversy, and she eventually left CBS.
Time named Oprah Winfrey one of the most important people of the twentieth century, and in 1998 Entertainment Weekly ranked her first in its annual list of the most influential people in Hollywood. In 1997 Newsweek named her the most important person in books and media, and TV Guide called her the television performer of the year. In the 1990s, she oversaw a media empire built around her name and brand.
The Monica Lewinsky story, which eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton by the House of Representatives, was broken not in the mainstream media but by the gossip web siteThe Drudge Report, produced by Matt Drudge. Drudge fancied himself as following in the footsteps of Walter Winchell, right down to the fedora he wore.
The number one radio talk show host of the 1990s was Rush Limbaugh, whose 3-hour show was heard daily by 20 million listeners. Limbaugh mixed humor and entertainment with his fiery and often controversial conservative political viewpoints.
The self-proclaimed "King of All Media," Howard Stern was the third-leading radio host in the decade, delivering a foul-mouthed, offensive, overly sexual and highly successful syndicated show. He created a stir when he moved his show off of the terrestrial airwaves, and onto the new satellite radio service. Though he avoided the censors, his fans had to pay for the service to hear him.
At the end of the 1990s, Ira Glass was changing the face of American journalism with his weekly radio program, This American Life. Broadcast out of Chicago public radio station WBEZ, This American Life was a show of stories held together by a theme. After only three and a half years the program aired on 350 public radio stations to an audience of more than 830,000. The show began when WBEZ received a MacArthur Foundation grant to create a weekly arts/news show and asked Glass to produce it.
In 1990 the U.S. engaged in a war with Iraq and its despot leader (and former U.S. ally) Saddam Hussein after his invasion of neighboring Kuwait. While the war was a success in driving back the Iraqi forces, President George H. W. Bush saw his popularity plummet as he stopped short of removing Hussein from power, stating that overthrowing the Iraqi government would have "incurred incalculable human and political costs... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."
The perceived failings of Bush's war leadership combined with an economic recession and the entrance of a third party candidate, libertarian Ross Perot, paved the way for Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to win the 1992 presidential election. Clinton oversaw one of the greatest eras of economic prosperity in American history, helped tremendously by the introduction of the Internet to the American public.
In 1994, the Democrats lost their 40-year stranglehold on the House of Representatives as the Republicans unveiled their "Contract with America," a list of conservative policy initiatives designed to reform what many Americans saw as bloated and ineffective social and economic government programs. Despite the large Democratic losses suffered in both 1994 and 1996, President Clinton easily won reelection over Republican candidate and long-time senator Bob Dole.
President Clinton's second term is most famous for the "Monica-gate" scandal, in which news of an affair between Clinton and a 22-year-old White House intern named Monica Lewinsky was first broken by the web site The Drudge Report. The scandal eventually led to Clinton's impeachment by the House of Representatives, although he was never convicted of any charges.
The 1990's also saw terrorism rise to the forefront of American consciousness, as several events proved to be dire warnings of far worse to come. On February 26, 1993, Islamic extremist Ramzi Yousef detonated a Ryder truck packed with 1500 lbs. of explosives in the subterranean parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring over 1,000.
On April 19, 2005, anti-government domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck packed with 5,000 lbs. of explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children. The bombing was allegedly in response to the government's handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge anti-government militia incidents.
In 1998, three American embassies in Africa were attacked by terrorist car bombs, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Two years later, a suicide bomber drove a boat filled with explosives into the American destroyer USS Cole, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors. These bombings were all connected to the Al Qaeda terrorist network, and led its leader Osama bin Laden being placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list for the first time.
In August of 1990, Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait. Hussein underestimated the response, and Iraq's army and infrastructure would be decimated by a coalition of forces led by the United States. During the conflict, 24-hour cable news coverage came into it's own, with CNN capturing big ratings and establishing its place beside the traditional broadcast news operations.
A routine traffic stop in Los Angeles turned violent when a African American motorist was beaten by numerous, predominantly white police officers. The incident was caught on video by a non-journalist and ran over and over on local and national news programs. The trial of the police officers would end in the acquittal of the officers, and spark the L. A. riots in 1992.
After a long and successful basketball career in the NBA, Earvin "Magic" Johnson discovered he was HIV-positive, and retired from the game. Johnson's admissions were a wake up call for heterosexual men. Johnson admitted that his promiscuous lifestyle, specifically having unprotected sex with numerous women, had led to his contracting the disease. Fortunately for Johnson, his symptoms remained dormant, and he attempted multiple comebacks with both his Los Angeles Lakers NBA team, as well as the U.S. "Dream" Team in the 1992 Olympics.
Following the acquittal by a predominately white jury of the police officers charged with beating Rodney King, African Americans in Los Angeles took to the streets. The resulting riot lasted for days, and included many dramatic scenes, notably video taken from a news helicopter of African American youths beating white truck driver Reginald Denny. Denny was eventually pulled to safety by other African Americans who had been watching the beating live on television.
After almost 30 years of hosting the tonight show, Johnny Carson retired as one of the best known personalities in 20th Century television. "And so it has come to this. I am one of the lucky people in the world. I found something that I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it, " Carson said in farewell.
Islamic terrorists intent on destroying the twin towers of the World Trade Center, detonated a car bomb in the parking garage below Tower One. Their intent was for the tower to crash into Tower Two, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the process. The towers did not fall, though six people were killed and over 1000 were injured. The conspirators were caught and sentenced to prison, but the World Trade Center, an icon of American business, would remain a target.
On February 28, 1993, agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raided the Branch-Davidian compound. The Branch-Davidians were a religious cult who believed the apocalypse was near. When the ATF raided the compound looking for stockpiled weapons, and investigating allegations that Koresh was sexually abusing some of the children within the group, shots were fired. After the firefight ended, the ATF settled in for a siege of the compound. However, the siege would not end peacefully, and 83 Branch-Davidians would die when the compound burned to the ground while under assault from ATF agents. Allegations of operational mismanagement would plague the ATF, and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno. The event would inspire the Oklahoma City bombing one year later.
O. J. Simpson, former college and professional football star, was the chief suspect in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Instead of turning himself in as expected, Simpson led police on a slow-speed chase through Los Angeles, much of which was broadcast live by trailing helicopters. His celebrity status, along with the slow-speed chase, meant Simpson's prosecution was another "trial of the century" circus, dominating the news media until October 3, 1995 when he was found not guilty.
One year after the Branch-Davidian compound burned to the ground in Waco, Texas, a car bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Almost by chance, police apprehended Timothy McVeigh, a former Army soldier, who would be tried and eventually convicted for positioning the truck containing the explosives. The bombing was the worst case of domestic terrorism the U.S. has ever experienced.
Princess Diana, the former wife of Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir to the throne of England, died in a car crash while evading paparazzi -- journalists and photographers who focus on celebrities. Several of the paparazzi were charged with contributing to the crash, but blame for the accident was eventually placed primarily on the couple’s driver.
Armed with assault rifles and pipe bombs, two students walked into their Colorado high school. When the smoke had cleared and police had secured the building, 13 people, as well as the two shooters, were dead. The massacre renewed the debate over gun control.
Tthe son of President John F. Kennedy, died along with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, and her sister, Lauren, when the plane he was piloting crashed into the ocean. In 1995, Kennedy had founded the magazine George, which enjoyed limited success. At his funeral, Kennedy's uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy said: "We dared to think that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side. But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years."
CNN's coverage of the Gulf War signaled a watershed moment for television news, as viewers began to turn to CNN's 24-hour news coverage over the traditional network evening newscasts. Falling ratings also indicated the beginning of the end of the iconic news anchor, as well cementing the legitimacy and popularity of cable channels in general.
The media consolidations and the emphasis on "profit over product" journalism of the 1980's continued into the 1990's, led by American companies such as GE, Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, as well as Australian Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, which spawned the CNN rival Fox News in 1996.
The rise of "infotainment" led to a new look in American entertainment, as shows such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, COPS, and MTV's The Real World created stars out of common people and crafted a genre of highly edited "reality" television, seemingly fulfilling Andy Warhol's prophesy that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."
The repeal of the "Fairness Doctrine" in the 1980's led to the rise of highly-partisan conservative radio programs on the AM dial, highlighted by the hugely popular Rush Limbaugh, who boasted 20 million listeners a day during most of the 1990's.
By the late-1990's, the Internet was becoming a part of many American homes and businesses. Consumers no longer had to get their information on the media's schedule, as the Internet enabled on-demand news, entertainment, and information.
The Internet revolution, along with increased popularity of cable channels, hastened the decline the traditional 20th century media's hold on America and helped cause a shift in the way modern media would function.