Journalism Sure Could Use a Little Good News
February 13, 2015
February 13, 2015
The title of this blog is ripped from one of my favorite songs about the news business. (It’s right up there with Fleetwood Mac’s Murrow Turning over in His Grave and Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry). Anne Murray’s 1983 tune laments the tidal wave of depressing news of the day: the economy, fighting in Lebanon and drug overdoses. Today’s entry, however, is about how brutal this past week has been for journalism itself.
I’ll begin with a story that, while I don’t it equate with an actual death, did receive the greatest amount of coverage.
Brian Williams: “BriWi” was likely the most popular personality in journalism today. His six month “suspension” without pay (the Washington Post makes it sound more like an all-out firing) after fabricating a story about his time in Iraq was a bitter pill for his millions of fans and for NBC News to swallow. Whether due to a decrease in checks and balances in the wake of Comcast’s acquisition of NBC or a pathological desire by Williams to insert himself into the news, the anchorman’s fall from grace was stunning and a big-time blow to the industry’s cred.
It’s a wakeup call that it’s not just a Jayson Blair or a Stephen Glass who will be held to the highest of journalistic ethics. Kudos to my former ABC colleague and Chief of NBC’s Investigative Unit Rich Esposito (truly one of the best journalists out there), who had the unenviable task of leading an internal investigation into the face of the network.
Bob Simon: The 73 year old correspondent for CBS News and 60 Minutes was tragically killed when the livery cab in which was a passenger crashed on Manhattan’s West Side Highway Wednesday night. It was hard to fathom how a man who had survived 40 days as a captive in Saddam Hussein’s prison at the outset of the First Gulf War could be taken from us in such an everyday occurrence. Simon was the newsman’s newsman, a former war correspondent (beginning with Vietnam) who was among the best writers in the businesses. The immediate examination of his legacy of exemplary reporting drew a sharp contrast with the type of journalism allegedly practiced all too frequently by Williams.
David Carr: He started in the alt-weekly universe, defeated a drug addiction, and worked his way to the New York Times as a business reporter and would soon evolve into one of the Grey Lady’s most popular columnists. He was more than just a media critic; he was considered one of the most astute observers of pop culture. According to his Times obituary, he was an “early evangelist” of social media. Admittedly, I have not watched Page One, the 2011 documentary about changing times at the paper, but apparently no one is a greater presence than the late David Carr.
Ned Colt: While not the household name that Bob Simon was, the former NBC News Foreign Correspondent was praised for his coverage of such real-life human dramas as the Iraq War and the Indian Ocean tsunami. Like Simon, Colt paid a price for his bravery: he was kidnapped and held for several days during his coverage in Iraq. A Boston native and former reporter WHDH-TV reporter, Colt passed away in his hometown this week after suffering a massive stroke at just 58 years old. After leaving journalism in 2009, Colt showed his passion for helping those he reported on by holding positions in the aid sector with the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations office dedicated to refugees.
Yes, I didn’t include Jon Stewart and his announcement that he’ll be stepping down from the Daily Show in this list. Let’s be clear: Stewart is in the business of infotainment not journalism, even if his 17 years on the Comedy Central desk have offered some of the most astute commentary on world events and the state of the media. While some have recently criticized Stewart for enabling a culture of snark and cynicism, I applaud the comic/actor/filmmaker and his team of writers and producers for being able to reach an audience that would have otherwise have tuned out of the day’s news.
The best case scenario is that Stewart’s viewers were supplementing their Daily Show intake with some sources of more straightforward reporting. After all, we rely on journalism to make us aware of global events, from the enlightening and inspiring to the tragic and devastating. Good reporting holds those in power responsible and helps us to think critically about the world in which we live. That is why this was such a hard week for those of us who love the news business. Simon, Colt, Carr, Williams and, yes, Stewart all made us a little bit smarter and more-informed citizens. Their contributions will be missed.