Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Guess Who's Not Coming to Breakfast

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Guess Who's Not Coming to Breakfast

Article excerpt

Every year or so I return to my theme of how television has ruined the news business.

I probably should have buried my objections years ago when, right after John F. Kennedy had opened the door to TV cameras at his first presidential press conference, that great Monitor newsman, Richard Strout, said to me:

"No, I don't like it either. We're part of the entertainment business now and we reporters are all mountebanks. But it's no use complaining about it. Face it: Television is here to stay."

That's a remembered quote, but that was the sense of it. My old friend Dick would want me to make that clear to the readers.

At first, print journalists kept their objectivity - and their credibility - by not becoming involved in television, except when they, in their work, were a part of the scene being broadcast. Such programs as "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation" did not ask the reporters on the panels to express their opinions. These journalists just asked questions.

But now we have the TV shows where the newsmen and newswomen are the pundits.

And, as The Washington Post's columnist and former ombudsman, Geneva Overholser, puts it so well: "{they} babble heatedly about public officials {and} then ask the public to read or hear the news stories these journalists write or edit the next day about these very same officials - and to count on their fairness and open-mindedness."

But, as Ms. Overholser points out, "of course people don't."

I'm particularly concerned about another - and little noticed - negative aspect of television: how easy it is for public figures to use TV for their own purposes - for them to get away with prepackaged answers that support their political interests.

A few programs, like "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation" do allow their reporters to probe deeply. But mostly, a public official like President Clinton will seek out TV interviewers who are entertainers, not trained journalists, if they are in the midst of controversy and want their side of the story - and only their side - expressed. I squirm when I hear these moderators ask their softball questions.

Actually, when the public official goes on these TV shows, he really isn't talking to the interviewer. …

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