Bob Franken


January 2, 2008
Equal-Opportunity Skeptics (Bob Franken)
@ 1:08 pm

Nobody ever believes this, but I’m going to say it anyway. While all journalists, as human beings, have opinions, most of us find it easy to ignore them when we’re reporting. We automatically click into another reality, where the greater truth is achieved by relevant facts and context, as opposed to advocacy. Long ago, I realized that most issues of the day have honorable arguments on both sides. For me as a reporter, the thrilling intellectual challenge is articulating them — to be the viewer’s or reader’s honest broker.

Why, you ask, do I tell you this? Because, I answer, I’m reading and hearing the spasms over the Hillary Clinton interview conducted by George Stephanopoulos. The critics bluster that Stephanopoulos shouldn’t have done it because he was part of the Clinton White House.

The logical extension is that someone who had previously been a worker for one officeholder, candidate or cause was forever disqualified from journalism, because he or she cannot approach their former employer or organization — to say nothing of their adversaries — with a clear, unbiased open mind. That is just not so.

George, for instance, is a tremendous reporter who seems to approach ex-friends and -foes with the same skepticism that is supposed to be the everday hallmark of our profession. So is his Sunday talk show competitor Tim Russert, who worked for New York Democrats Cuomo and Moynihan. So is his colleague Pete Williams, NBC’s phenomenal justice correspondent, who was Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s spokesman in a previous life. Does anyone question Diane Sawyer’s reporting chops? Does anyone even care she worked at one time for Richard Nixon?

I suppose I should mention that I know each and every one of the above, and have been at some of the same parties. But, short of a current or contemplated business relationship, such things don’t matter. The question is: Can the person who has “crossed over” adhere to the cliche “If your mother says she loves you, check it out”? All those I mentioned can and do, constantly. We all probably have very frustrated mothers.

There is so much wrong with media today, seriously wrong, but the problems are complex. To focus on a few personalities is simplistic and the charge that someone cannot put his opinions aside when he or she is working as a reporter is flat wrong. Not everyone does, but certainly the ones I’ve specified have proven it can be done, and done well. It’s not even difficult. Although it’s probably harder than blindly criticizing someone without knowing what you’re talking about.

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