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American Today

Television and Film

Gentile’s Stories Top NOW Hit List

By Mike Unger

For reporting Tom Brokaw calls “fearless about challenging conventional wisdom,” television viewers turn to NOW on PBS. In 2008, that meant they turned to Bill Gentile.

The American University School of Communication professor’s pieces on the shortage of nurses in the United States and America’s war in Afghanistan were named the show’s first and third most popular of 2008.

“Nurses Needed: An investigation into a critical, dangerous shortage of nurses in the U.S.” topped the list, while “Afghanistan: The Forgotten War” came in third.

“Bill Gentile’s work for NOW on PBS has been nothing short of outstanding,” said John Siceloff, the show’s executive producer. “His stories enlighten our audiences about the inner workings of our democracy at home and abroad. Gentile’s tough-minded journalism and intimate story-telling are a dazzling combination.”

The stories came to Gentile in very different ways. A veteran foreign correspondent, he traveled to Afghanistan in late May and embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit—the same group he traveled with in Iraq three years ago—as they set out to continue the increasingly difficult fight against the Taliban. He was first drawn to the Afghanistan story in 2007, when the U.S. Army published its counterinsurgency field manual.

“What impacted me most was the level of sacrifice that our servicemen and women are offering up to our nation every day,” Gentile said. “Patrolling in temperatures above 120 degrees. Eating meals from plastic bags. Sleeping on the ground. Washing with cold water from a well. I believe that our nation, unfortunately, is largely unaware of that sacrifice. And that, in itself, is good reason for a journalist like me to go to a place like that.”

NOW brass asked him to take over the nursing piece after the producer working on it was reassigned to another story.

“I knew nothing about the nursing crisis,” he said. “I learned a tremendous amount. About 25 percent of nurses quit bedside practice after the first year because of the stress of the job. It’s a very real problem that’s going to affect a lot of people, especially baby boomers who are getting old. It was a real education for me about the whole field. That’s one of the reasons we’re in journalism. If you don’t have an inherent curiosity about how the world works, then you shouldn’t be in journalism.”