|The Paula Gordon Show|
The massive failure of America's news media is a story that news organizations refuse to examine, says prize-winning former network TV news and print reporter Bonnie Anderson. She's convinced that the United States is at a very critical juncture -- the lack of quality journalism and authentic news reporting are a threat to American democracy -- which is why she and a handful of other journalists are intent on covering this story.
In particular, Ms. Anderson says, America's TV and radio networks do not want the public to know how dramatically they have cut corners in producing news, how often they are less than ethical, how they distort news and use technology in ways that do not benefit the public.
The United States government is part of the story too, she says. There's never been a time when the American public has had less access to public documents or to what used to be open, legal proceedings, she believes. And, she says, the news media are being muzzled with a new definition of patriotism that demands uncritical agreement with and reporting about the current administration.
Finally, add reporters' fear, self-censorship, and too many reporters chasing celebrity instead of the truth and you have Ms. Anderson's grim overview of today's news business.
Why this alarming decay in democracy's lifeblood?
Look no further than the bottom line, Ms. Anderson suggests. Media owners need not return to the days when the fundamental public service nature of news resulted in operating losses. But, she says, the large corporations that now control America's 5 or 6 major news outlets are no longer content with news divisions generating reasonable profits, they are demanding profits some call obscene.
America's media institutions have the legal as well as ethical responsibility to deliver real, unbiased news to the public, Ms. Anderson reminds us. The U.S. Constitutional gave special protection to news outlets for a reason that has been lost -- so that "We, The People" can know enough to govern ourselves -- not for todays' enormous private gains for corporate and family media empires.
Ms. Anderson cares passionately about all this because, as an
international correspondent and in her personal life, she has painful
first hand experience of what happens to democracy when citizens lack
good information or governments control news. A robust democracy, she
insists, requires well informed citizens who know what they need to
know about their own country and the world, as well as what they want
to know to be entertained. Both news and entertainment are fine in
their rightful place, she says, the danger is in mistaking one for
the other -- “"infotainment" -- blurring the line
between opinion and reporting.
Bonnie Anderson describes for Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why Ms. Anderson believes America's news organizations, especially TV, abuse the public trust. She distinguishes "infotainment" from "news."
News as a profit center is addressed, with Ms. Anderson convinced the news business's biggest problem is the primacy of "the bottom line." She advocates a healthy profit instead of profits so great they sacrifice ethics, standards, responsibility and the public's right to know. She describes how "obscene" profits affect what passes for news. The importance of news in a democracy is explored, then the role of business in news. Ms. Anderson suggests ways viewers can influence what is seen on TV news instead of just turning it off in disgust.
TV news people's responsibilities have not changed, Ms. Anderson says, clear that news is a Public Service, not an entertainment medium. Reporters should be gatekeepers of what is true, not in pursuit of fame and celebrity, she insists. She reports a chilling effect in newsrooms when responsible journalists speak out, then explains her own work to awaken concern for the condition of today's news. America is at a critical juncture, she says -- without a free, responsible press, democracy is at risk, she believes, summarizing its critical role.
Ms. Anderson describes being a war corresponded, traveling in some 150 countries, reporting on natural disasters, death and destruction, then offers personal examples of the power of shining light on dark places. She urges people to go beyond America's 5 or 6 corporate outlets for news, to take advantage of reporting available from all over the world. Put democracy to work, she urges, concerned when a single political perspective is confused with patriotism. She rejects reporters' self-censorship, describes the managed affairs Presidential press conferences have become. She speaks to the good and harm that have accompanied changes in television's technology.
While "Fox News" is a misnomer, Ms. Anderson insists she loves opinion programming if it does not pass itself off as news. She elaborates on what constitutes authentic news, concerned when the line between news and opinion blur. She acknowledges Fox's business acumen in its approach. The role of criticism is considered, with examples ranging from Jon Stewart to the "Columbia Journalism Review." The idea of a news "audit" is explored.
Contrasting the idea of media as watchdog and lapdog, Ms. Anderson describes the many things she believes the TV networks do not want the public to know. Genuine debate, she concludes, is what America needs to revitalize democracy.
We appreciate Don Keenan knowing that we would find Bonnie Anderson's views of vital interest to us all.
The staff of Atlanta's 191 Club graciously made us welcome when we recorded this program, for which we thank them.
News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News is published by Jossey-Bass.
For more information about Ms. Anderson and about the current state of "news" in the United States and the world, visit her website.
Because the media are the sources for perhaps most of the stories we all believe and share, the role of the “media” has come up in many of our conversations, including: The New Yorker's Ken Auletta, former head of CNN Tom Johnson, student of terrorism Mia Bloom, civil rights historian Taylor Branch, the man British journalists name the greatest all-time British newspaper editor Sir Harold Evans, Bowling Alone author Robert Putnam and publisher of The New Press André Schiffrin. We've also talked with many well-know practioners of the journalist's arts: David Halberstam, Haynes Johnson, Andrew Solomon, Sandra Mackey, Eric Schlosser and Richard Rodriguez.