The view from the pedestal

Network anchors were given an interesting platform this week in an article by Gail Shister of the Philadelphia Inquirer. The story examines media coverage of the death of Ronald Reagan and includes anchor comments about the tone of network coverage. I recommend you read the whole thing, but here are a few of the better quotes:

Tom Brokaw: Reagan “was a beloved American leader, but at the same time our journalistic obligation is to put his whole life and his political career in context. It’s a very delicate balancing act.”

Dan Rather: “When a twice-elected, two-full-term president dies, it’s not the time for a seminar on his strengths and weaknesses, in my opinion. To paraphase Marc Antony, I think, by and large, that the good that men do should live after them, and the evil should be interred with their bones.”

Peter Jennings:“If we waited for the president to be buried before doing a critical analysis, the world would move on quite a bit. On the other hand, I can’t imagine listening to the 23d Psalm at the National Cathedral, then having a discussion about whether the president did or did not win the Cold War.”

Brokaw’s statement is actually a repeat of a theme he uses often — that it is the “obligation” of journalists to put things in context. What I find so amusing about this line of thinking is its obvious conflict with the idea of objectivity. Of course, I’ve been on that soap box before, and I don’t believe there is any such thing as objectivity in journalism. Hence, Brokaw’s meme is actually true. However — and here’s my beef with the guy — it’s a dishonest practice unless and until his version of context is defined and revealed. One can’t hide behind objectivity and produce “context” at the same time. The public is increasingly aware of this form of deception, and it’s one of the reasons we don’t trust people like network anchors anymore.

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