Walter Cronkite, kronkite
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Walter Cronkite

Who Will Be the Most Trusted Media Members in the Future?

October 15, 2009 05:24 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
In a media environment currently dominated by highly partisan ranters, what media figures can, like the recently deceased Walter Cronkite and Tim Russert, earn trust and respect from a wide audience?

Looking for a New Generation

In a recent editorial for The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan bemoans the influence of “ranters” in today’s media, those who incite their audiences against those with opposing views. She reflects on the recent loss of respected newsmen and commentators such as Walter Cronkite, Irving Kristol and Don Hewitt, calling them the “elders” of the news media. The elders, she says, had the moral authority and maturity to engage in debate with respect for their opponents and the good of the country.

The deaths of Cronkite and Tim Russert, who died in 2008, have left many wondering who will follow in their legacy of objectivity and trustworthiness. Noonan argues that a new generation of elders is needed to “rescue America from the precipice.” They will need to emerge from the current cacophony of partisan voices.

What Are We Looking for in an “Elder”?

Americans have, in general, lost trust in the mainstream media, especially as it has become larger and more splintered along ideological lines. Today, many news sources are seen as having a particular bias to a politician, party or interest much more so than in years past.

Newsweek’s Evan Thomas writes, “Much of the suspicion of press bias comes from two assumptions that are commonplace, if contradictory. The first is that reporters are out to get their subjects. The second is that the press is too close to its subjects—in the parlance of journalists, ‘in the tank.’”

Thomas traces the history of U.S. journalists. During the early Cold War period, the press had a close relationship with the government, but this changed during the 1960s and 70s, when topics such as the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal gave rise to more investigative reporting. After he Sept. 11 attacks, the media became less adversarial; however, after the media was criticized for not properly investigating the evidence for the Iraq War, “most news organizations took up the cudgels again,” writes Thomas.

A media elder would have to find the balance between being respectful and properly skeptical toward political figures. Glenn Greenwald writes in Salon that Cronkite did this, earning the respect of the people he covered, while also challenging their statements when necessary. In the most famous example, Cronkite questioned the government’s claim that it was winning in Vietnam.

Greenwald compares Cronkite’s style favorably to that of Russert, whom he believes was too soft toward the political establishment, and David Gregory, current host of “Meet the Press,” who declared in 2008 that it was not the media’s job to question the evidence for the Iraq War.

“Cronkite's best moment was when he did exactly that which the modern journalist today insists they must not ever do—directly contradict claims from government and military officials and suggest that such claims should not be believed,” writes Greenwald.

Modern commentators, particularly those on cable news or talk radio, maintain adversarial stances, but their views are typically one-sided and dismissed by listeners who do not share their political ideology. Many of these commentators can be said to suffer from “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” a term coined by Charles Krauthammer to describe those who instinctively opposed anything President Bush did, or its sequel, “Obama Derangement Syndrome.”

The rise of openly partisan commentators, made possible by the rise of cable news, the Internet and other alternative sources, and by the end of the fairness doctrine, has made it more difficult for an “elder” to stand out among the crowd. In today’s media environment, news anchors like Cronkite, Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner would no longer command the same respect and attention.

CBS’ Charles Cooper does not believe that this is a bad thing. The growth of cable news and the Internet allows irresponsible and incendiary voices to be heard, but it takes control of the news out of the hands of a select few and helps ensure that noteworthy stories don’t go unreported. “To be sure, we're going through a sometimes rocky transition but that doesn't mean the same values represented by Walter Cronkite won't live on,” he writes.

Profiles on Potential Elders

Christiane Amanpour
Born in London, raised in Iran and educated in the U.S., Christiane Amanpour has served as a foreign correspondent for CNN for nearly two decades. She is famous for reporting from the front line of war zones in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans. She had also performed interviews with many famous world leaders, and recently became the host of “Amanpour,” a daily interview show on CNN International.

In an interview with The Guardian, she explained her journalistic philosophy: “Objectivity is not treating each side equally, not drawing a false moral equivalence. It's covering all sides, giving all sides a hearing but not necessarily drawing false conclusions because if you do that in these kinds of situations, in my view, you're an accomplice.”

Paul Krugman
Paul Krugman is a Princeton economics professor, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, New York Times op-ed columnist and self-proclaimed liberal who has become one of the most serious critics of President Obama’s economic policy.

“Reading Krugman makes you uneasy,” writes Evan Thomas in Newsweek. “You hope he's wrong, and you sense he's being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see.”

Jim Lehrer
Jim Lehrer is recognized for his commitment to impartiality as host of PBS’ “NewsHour,”
the latest incarnation of a show he founded in 1975 with Robert MacNeil, and as the moderator of 11 presidential debates. He has also authored 19 fiction and non-fiction novels.

Lehrer believes in allowing his interview subjects the chance to state their positions without interruption. “Objectivity is almost impossible. Fairness is never impossible,” Lehrer says. “And all that people have a right to expect is that they will be treated fairly.”

Jon Meacham
Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, a soft-spoken Southern Christian, oversaw the redesign of the weekly magazine this year to make it “less slick, more weighty, unpretentious, a little boxy—like Mr. Meacham,” writes the New York Observer.

Meacham writes frequently about religion in America in his “On Faith” blog, and is the author of several books, including “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for biography.

Diane Sawyer
Diane Sawyer will take over Charlie Gibson’s position as host of ABC’s “World News Tonight” this January, becoming the second woman ever to be a solo anchor network news. It is the latest in a long line of accomplishments for Sawyer, a former press aide under President Nixon, who was the first woman to be a “60 Minutes” correspondent and has won numerous awards as host of ABC’s “Primetime.”

Jon Stewart
“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart anchors a satirical news show, but he has developed into one of America’s must trusted newsmen, according to several polls, including a 2009 Time poll that ranked him first.

‘The Daily Show’ is animated not by partisanship but by a deep mistrust of all ideology,” says The New York Times. “A sane voice in a noisy red-blue echo chamber, Stewart displays an impatience with the platitudes of both the right and the left and a disdain for commentators who, as he made clear in a famous 2004 appearance on CNN's ‘Crossfire,’ parrot party-line talking points and engage in knee-jerk shouting matches”

Fareed Zakaria
Indian-born, Harvard-educated journalist Fareed Zakaria, who currently serves as the editor for Newsweek International and hosts a daily show on CNN, “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” is one of the most influential voices on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

He is best known for his post-Sept. 11 article “Why They Hate Us” and his 2003 book “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,” which argued that a country must be liberalized before democracy can be instituted.

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