Friday, July 10, 2009

Putting Cronkite's Quote In Context

Remember Yesterday Sarah Quoted Walter Cronkite? Well here is the part of the interview from Playboy magazine that Sarah quoted:

PLAYBOY: Implicit in the Administration's attempts to force the networks to "balance" the news is a conviction that most newscasters are biased against conservatism. Is there some truth in the view that television newsmen tend to be left of center?
CRONKITE: Well, certainly liberal, and possibly left of center as well. I would have to accept that.

PLAYBOY: What's the distinction between those two terms?
CRONKITE: I think the distinction is both clear and important. I think that being a liberal, in the true sense, is being nondoctrinaire, nondogmatic, noncommitted to a cause—but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it's a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they're not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they're preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can't be very good journalists; that is, if they carry it into their journalism.

As far as the leftist thing is concerned, that I think is something that comes from the nature of a journalist's work. Most newsmen have spent some time covering the seamier side of human endeavor; they cover police stations and courts and the infighting in politics. And I think they come to feel very little allegiance to the established order. I think they're inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority and institutions. And this sort of pushes them to the left. But I don't think there are many who are far left. I think a little left of center probably is correct.

PLAYBOY: Some critics believe that this left-of-center tendency produces a kind of conventional wisdom for liberals—a point of view that's common to most newsmen. During last summer's convention coverage, for example, George McGovern was repeatedly characterized as a likable but conniving bumbler and President Nixon as an unlovable but efficient manager running a closed shop. According to Richard Dougherty, Senator McGovern's press secretary during the 1972 campaign, the press never rests until it has found a convenient tag. Then, unconsciously, it edits its coverage to fit this preconception. Is this a legitimate charge?
CRONKITE: God, it worries me more than almost any other single factor. It's a habit that I justify to myself because of the time element. You quickly label a man as a leftist or a conservative or something, because every time you mention him, it's almost impossible to explain precisely where he stands on various issues. But labeling disturbs me at every level of our society. We all have a tendency to do it.

PLAYBOY: Doesn't the fact that the same labels tend to be applied to the same people by all the networks—as well as by the print media—imply that there's a bit too much editorial camp-following in the news business?
CRONKITE: Don't forget that in political campaigns those who cover a candidate are all living and working together in the greatest intimacy. I mean, there's a lot of cross-fertilization, and these reporters become kind of a touchstone for the rest of the press. That's inevitable, I suppose. But the idea that there's some elitist liberal Eastern establishment policy line is absolutely mad.

PLAYBOY: To the extent that there is at least a tendency to group-think, what do you think the effect of it is?
CRONKITE: To the extent that there is an effect. I think it's to be deplored. But I don't know that there's anything you can do about it. We're perhaps all conditioned by similar backgrounds, similar experiences. And you'll find. I think, that if we do, indeed, react in a knee-jerk fashion to news stimuli, so do people in every other business.

PLAYBOY: Isn't that the essence of Vice President Agnew's charge—that newsmen are conditioned by similar backgrounds and experiences?
CRONKITE: Again, he's thinking of the elitist Eastern establishment as our common background and experience. I'm thinking about covering the police station in Louisiana in Howard K. Smith's case or North Carolina in David Brinkley's case. That's the kind of experience I'm talking about—experience of America, experience with the people, experience with the burgeoning and overburdening bureaucracy, experience with those who have a tough shake in life. That's the experience I'm talking about.

PLAYBOY: How do you feel about advocacy journalism—the kind of reporting that puts the sort of experience you mention in the service of a newsman's own personal convictions? Is it possible that there isn't enough of this—rather than too much, as Agnew claims--in the media?
CRONKITE: I think that in seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story. In fact, I don't merely think, I insist that we present both sides of a story. It's perfectly all right to have first-person journalism; I'm all for muckraking journalism; I'm all for the sidebar, the eyewitness story, the impression piece. But the basic function of the press has to be the presentation of all the facts on which the story is based. There are no pros and cons as far as the press is concerned. There shouldn't be. There are only the facts. Advocacy is all right in special columns. But how the hell are you going to give people the basis on which to advocate something if you don't present the facts to them? If you go only for advocacy journalism, you're really assuming unto yourself a privilege that was never intended anywhere in the definition of a free press.

I know act shocked Sarah cherry picked a quote and didn't bother to explain the context. That's why she loves twitter she doesn't have to and her brain dead followers just swallow it whole.

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