Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama has chastised the media for cheapening the public debate. Me too.
Dear Mr. President,
Well, I hope this Saturday brings you a little rest from your weary travels. I enjoy going on the road but at some point I usually find myself pining a bit for a quiet evening at home with some TV and maybe some brownies. I’ll bet that sounds good right now, eh?
I don’t suppose you’ll get much rest, however, with all the Sturm und Drang over tax cuts, and deficit spending, and oh, whatever else it is that the Capitol Hillers are grinding their teeth over. You sort of took the media to task during your travels for focusing too much on splashy, sensational stories while steering way clear of many serious matters for fear of scaring off the audience.
Well, I have to say you are absolutely right about that. It is tragic, but true. The quest for readers, listeners, and viewers, has built a steadily growing feeding frenzy in my industry for at least a couple of decades and it doesn’t seem ready to end anytime soon. The chum in the water is scandal, “gotcha” interviews, jaw-dropping crimes, and simplistic political positions pitted against each other as if they represent real debate.
As I’ve said before, you and your political brethren bear some of the blame, too; after all we could not mount these made for TV slap-fights if both sides were not trotting out a never ending line of combatants more than happy to step into the ring. The public, ever ready to eat up such garbage, should also take some of the shame. But we the media should not evade our responsibility.
All that that said, I want to remind you of something that I think really matters. The truth is there are many of us in this profession who have waged an unflagging battle for years and years to defend the ramparts of objectivity and serious news. We have been far from perfect. We have made many compromises to keep our jobs. But we have fought on. And in large part, that is because we really believe that now, as much or more than ever before, our nation needs “facts” and “truth.” An endlessly spewing fountain of opinion is simply no substitute.
So how can you help solve this problem which we both can see? Here is an idea: The next time you want to give an interview, turn your back on the marquee names. Select a simple, fair, honest reporter who will ask hard questions. Show your respect for the importance of that craft. Answering legitimate queries from someone far removed from the show-biz aspects of the trade will certainly help your credibility far more than any cherry-picked interview with a perceived “friendly” reporter or any chat with a celebrity journalist.
You’re right: The media does focus on the shallow, cheap, and sensational far too much. So don’t reward the champions of that movement. Instead, reach out to those who stand for honest, objective standards. Better to be pummeled in a fair fight, than to win a fixed one.
Call if you get a moment. I’m very busy working on our end of the year special, All the Best, All the Worst of 2010, but happy to take a break if you can chat.
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