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The Tentacle


August 17, 2005

A Ray of Hope in an Age of Arrogance

Kevin E. Dayhoff

When Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings, (Order of Canada), passed away on August 7, it was the passing of an era for the traditional “Big Three” televised news broadcasts.

Mr. Jennings had been with ABC for over 40 years. He started anchoring the 15-minute evening news in 1964 at age 26. A couple of years later, he left the anchor desk for other assignments, many overseas, until he returned to ABC World News Tonight in 1978 and became the sole anchor on August 9, 1983. He last sat in the anchor’s chair last on April 1.

If one juxtaposes Mr. Jennings’ passing away with Tom Brokaw’s retirement from NBC in December 2004, followed by Dan Rather’s merciful retirement in March 2005, the old guard is gone and we can now fully embark on the age of cable news and the great experiment in the democratization of information dissemination called bloggers and the Internet.

There have been many “greats” in television news over the years as television has helped shape, for better or worse, the later half of the 20th century. Some of the memorable broadcast journalists in the era would include, Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith. Harry Reasoner, Walter Cronkite, Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Bob Keeshan.

Okay, I just wanted to see if you were really paying attention. For those who didn’t get the dry humor, Bob Keeshan played Captain Kangaroo on a children's show which aired weekday mornings on CBS from 1955 until 1984. I often confused Mr. Keeshan’s show with that of Daniel Irvin Rather, Jr., who served as anchor of the “CBS Evening News and Kangaroo Court” from March 9, 1981, until March 9, 2005.

In contrast to Mr. Rather, Mr. Jennings was widely appreciated as a sincere, honest broadcast journalist, who maintained his integrity in an era when his contemporaries did not emulate many of his values. Although certainly well known, Mr. Jennings always seemed to be having a conversation with his audience about the news of the day, instead of the grandstanding, condescending approach of many other celebrity and performer-journalists of the era. Examples abound, but Oliver North gave us one insight in a recent column: “Brian Williams, main character of the dark, prime time NBC satire called "Nightly News," is now a finalist, with Newsweek magazine and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., for the title of "Revisionist Historian of The Year."

Apparently, Mr. Williams characterized our first several presidents as “terrorists” in the worldview of the British of King George III’s England. There is no record of our first presidents ever engaging in kidnapping, torture or murdering innocent civilians. During the 2004 presidential election, one could have easily believed that CBS News had become “the clandestine TV production arm of MoveOn.org.” (Oh, how I wish those were my words, but alas, Pat Buchanan said it in a column on September 26, 2004.)

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; and it is precisely the left leaning arrogance of anchors, personified by Dan Rather, that has precipitated the public to demand other news outlets, such as Fox News, as a source of news and information. As much as Peter Jennings will be missed, the disservice that the main-stream traditional broadcast news has foisted upon our country for the last 40 years will not be missed, except as fodder for writers and historians.

A fall 2004 Gallup Poll found that media credibility was at its lowest point in decades. Just 44 percent of Americans now say they are confident that U.S. news outlets are presenting the news accurately and completely. That is down from 54 percent a year ago – about the same as it had been for seven years.

Linda Seebach, with the Rocky Mountain News, wrote in the summer of 2004, “[t]wo researchers…Tim Groseclose, of UCLA and Stanford, and Jeff Milyo, of the University of Chicago, used data comparing which think tanks… various media outlets liked to quote in their news stories… The media outlets were The New York Times, Los Angeles Times [owned by Tribune as is the Baltimore Sun], USA Today, the three network news shows; Fox News’ ‘Special Report’ and The Drudge Report. And all three papers, plus NBC and CBS, were [scored] closer to the average Democrat in Congress than to the median member of the House of Representatives.”

The researchers noted, “[o]ur results show a very significant liberal bias… One of our measures found that The Drudge Report is the most centrist of all media outlets in our sample. Our other measure found that Fox News' Special Report is the most centrist…” Ms. Seebach continued; “[t]he authors say they expected to find that the mainstream media leaned to the left, but they were astounded by the degree.

This exacerbates what many of us already know: that for every time one reads the Baltimore Sun or watches CBS News, you must double your exposure to Fox News and further balance your informational intake by reading on the web.

Most print and broadcast journalists proclaim their professionalism and attempt to keep their personal views to themselves. This is to be respected. However, it is well documented that most of the folks in the traditional mainstream media are liberals and their bias constantly seeps into their reporting. Ms. Seebach said it best when she wrote that the Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo study “is evidence that what they succeed best at is sounding like Democrats.”

Mr. Jennings succeeded at remaining credible. In 1989, a Times Mirror poll found him to be the most believable source of news. To be perfectly clear, Mr. Jennings was never mistaken for being George Will, but in an ‘age of arrogance,’ which best describes the last 40 years of broadcast news, he gave us a ray of hope and a glimpse at sanity.

At least while many of us news junkies waited in earnest for cable news and the Internet.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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