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Flashpoints USA with  Bryant Gumbel  and Gwen Ifill Photo:  Bryant Gumbel  and Gwen Ifill
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THE MEDIA TODAY: TRUTH OR LIES? - 9.16.03
In Focus  :  The State of News
About the Series
Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen Ifill is an innovative public affairs series from PBS that brings together both compelling examinations of critical issues and a dynamic pairing of two of the most respected names in journalism.


Television Poll Do Americans feel they can trust the media? View the results of the Flashpoints USA nationwide survey.



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Media Frenzy Mega-Media The State of News


What Does America Think?
According to the Flashpoints USA nationwide survey, 56% of Americans have less confidence about all news reporting since The New York Times/Jayson Blair scandal and 46% of Americans trust what they hear, read and see in the news just half of the time.

Veteran anchorman Tom Brokaw sat down one-on-one with Bryant Gumbel to discuss the state of news today and the future of journalism. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

Bryant Gumbel
As you saw earlier in our discussion with Jonathan Alter and Tony Blankley, our Flashpoints USA poll showed that only 10% said they did not like news anchors wearing US flag pins.

And, as promised then, here is now NBC's Tom Brokaw…. Tom how are you doing, good seeing you.

Tom Brokaw
Very well Bryant.

Gumbel
You chose not to wear a flag pin… why? Inappropriate for journalists?

Brokaw
I do think it is. I think it's a suggestion that you're somehow aligned with the government, whoever is in power - Republicans, Democrats or Independents, at some point I suppose. I think we have to work hard at having that position of neutrality, symbolically as well as editorially.

Gumbel
Well, MSNBC during the invasion of Iraq…

Brokaw
Flag down the corner…

Gumbel
Flag in the corner, heroic shots of George Bush, flag waving…

Brokaw
Yeah, I wasn't crazy about that.

Gumbel
Inappropriate?

Brokaw
That's the cable world. Um, I'm not sure that the flag in the corner was utterly inappropriate. I would have toned it down a little more. I do think there was the impression given that we were cheerleading in some fashion for the war. On the other hand you don't want to pretend that there's not an emotional component when there's something like a war going on. So it's always striking just the right balance.

There was more, for example, even in the great publications - print publications of the time - a different kind of tenor, you know the different profiles of the different soldiers who were at war and so on. War is a very emotional time and I think you have to work very hard at striking the right balance so you don't look like you're just waving the flag.

Gumbel
What you're seeing in the cable news nets these days…

Brokaw
Let me please say something about cable news.

Gumbel
Please.

Brokaw
I worry that cable is defining broadcast journalism.

Gumbel
No, no. In fact we've said their audiences are infinitesimal by comparison.

Brokaw
That's the point. And they're an important component. You've had more choices than you've ever had before. You have too many of them I think chasing the same story in the same fashion these days. But let's keep it in perspective and in context. There are many choices out there that you can make beyond the big, three cable news outlets.

Gumbel
And you see as a veteran journalist, what's happening in the cable news outlets. What do you think?

Brokaw
I have mixed feelings about it. I think it's going to get sorted out at some point. I think that one of… and obviously we have MSNBC and it's struggling to find its place.

I would hope that it would find a unique place and not everyone would be a copycat because I think the great advantage for the American news consumer now is to have a lot more choices, that means a lot more variety to choose from.

When I was a young man growing up in South Dakota and I use that as an example, I had a choice between Chet and David and Walter Cronkite for 15 minutes every night and then everything went dark until the Today show came on the next morning and that was our only choice.

Now if I was living out there I'd have all these other choices including the BBC World Service, including C-Span, including Jim Lehrer which didn't exist in those days, I'd have all those morning shows that are going and I could go on the internet and access The New York Times or the other publications that are going on. So there is a much richer menu now to choose from.

Gumbel
Why, why then do you think an increasing number of Americans who are polled seem to express not only a low opinion of journalists but a low opinion of what they do?

Brokaw
It's always been the case, you know Bryant, when I came of age during the Vietnam War we were held in pretty low esteem by a lot of people who were in favor of that war - they thought that we were traitors to our country because we were raising questions about it. Whenever there is something that is as emotional as a war in Iraq, or something like terrorism, you do get this kind of pitched argument that goes back and forth.

I do think that as the liberals in the early part of the 1960s defined what was politically correct, the conservatives are now and they've been very successful at it and it's been to their advantage. But we are not to forget that there was a time in America, like when you and I first met, that if someone raised a conservative voice during the 1960s they had a hard time getting on the air just as a liberal does now.

Gumbel
Without the bells, the whistles, the shaky cam and everything else, is good journalism still rewarded?

Brokaw
I think it is. I think it's harder constantly to find your place in this very crowded universe now and say, "we count, we do responsible reporting, and if you stay with us you're going to be well informed and over the long haul you're going to know more than you will if you go other places."

My best metaphor is that I've said on a number of occasions that about 10 years ago we had a big bang again, a big bang was the definition of the formation of the original universe. We had a big bang, we created a whole new universe and so the Walter Cronkite planet, the Chet and David planet and the ABC planet suddenly found itself competing with all these new stars and meteors and other things and for people to look into that crowded sky and say, "that one works for me, that one's my lodestar" means you have to be a little more aggressive as a news consumer.

Gumbel
Tom, it's always good seeing you. Take care of yourself.

Brokaw
Good seeing you pal.




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