Updated: Feb 11, 2020
I grew up in the era of three television stations and black and white TVs. Back when the pop duo Simon and Garfunkel were turning out hits like Mrs. Robinson. When people made a point of watching the national news. It was their way to keep up with what was happening in the world. It was a time when a television news anchorman could become known as “the most trusted man in America.” Enter Walter Cronkite.
In the days Cronkite reported the news, he did just that. He reported the news. He told viewers what happened. And nothing more. No interjecting of his own opinion, no assessing blame; just reporting the news in a way that would have made Sergeant Joe Friday of Dragnet fame happy: “Just the facts ma’am.” One of Cronkite’s most well-known quotes is, “In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story.”
Reporting the national news has become virtually extinct, as rare as a sighting of an amur leopard. With the advent of the 24-hour news cycle and huge pushes by cable news networks to grab ratings, reporting the news has been replaced with interpreting the news, also known as “putting a spin” on the story. The two prime offenders: CNN and Fox News. Want to know why everything wrong on planet earth is the fault of Donald Trump? Tune in to CNN. Want to know why the death of democracy as we know it will be the fault of the Democratic Party? Pick up the remote control and punch in the Fox News channel, sit back and let the democrat bashing/Trump lovefest begin. So much for reporting the news.
But spinning the news is not something monopolized by Fox and CNN. In a recent episode of 60 Minutes on CBS, Howard Schultz, the former CEO and Executive Chairman of Starbucks, was interviewed by Scott Pelley. In announcing that he is “considering” running for president in 2020, Schultz declared that one of his reasons for running as a Centrist Independent is, “This President is not qualified to be the President.” There ARE qualifications to be the President of the United States. The minimum requirements for becoming the President of the United States of America are outlined in Article II of the United States Constitution.
Those minimum qualifications include:
being a natural born citizen
being at least 35 years old, and
having spent at least fourteen years total of residence within the US
Those are the only qualifications to become President of the United States, as established by the US Constitution, so by all accounts, both Mr. Trump and Mr. Schultz are both qualified to hold the office. The logical follow-up questions from Pelley about Schultz’s accusation that President Trump is not qualified should have been: Why is the current President not qualified to hold the office, and what qualifies you to be the President of the United States? For me, the credibility of the entire interview was lost in the failure to ask one simple question. “Why do you say this President is not qualified to be the President?” Rather than employing Walter Cronkite’s advice on how to find the truth, Schultz was allowed to proclaim, unchallenged, that President Trump is not qualified.
To his credit, Pelley did ask where Schultz stood on some of the issues. While he was quick to point out many shortcomings, Schultz did not offer any solutions. When Pelley pointed out that many would want to know what the “coffee entrepreneur” knew about being Commander-in-Chief, Schultz’s answers were telling. While touting his business background, he said it wasn’t unusual for him to not be the smartest in the room. While I applaud Schultz’s transparency in answering the question, one could make the argument that by requiring the assistance of many who are smarter and more experienced and skilled than he is in solving complex problems, perhaps Mr. Schultz is just as unqualified to be the President as he accuses President Trump of being.
As far as I can tell, prior to seeking a nomination for the nation’s highest office, both Trump and Schultz were “businessmen” with no prior political experience. However, if one were to Google Howard Schultz today, it would be discovered that his Wikipedia biography has been updated and he is now described as “an American businessman and politician.” So, if I were to “consider” running for public office, would that mere consideration also make me a politician? Or is that designation strictly reserved for those with an estimated net worth of 3.2 billion dollars?
At the close of the interview, Pelley made the following statement: “You know it’s on after this interview. President Trump is going to be Tweeting by about eight o’clock Eastern Time. Gonna say terrible things about you.” Even if Pelley’s Twitter statement turned out to be true, is that responsible reporting of the news or is it Ouija board journalism trying to predict the future or is it an attempt to further a liberal agenda by baiting Schultz into a controversial response to statements that had not yet been made? Is it Pelley himself or is it CBS as a network spinning the story? Or is it CBS simply failing to hold their reporters accountable and allowing an internal bias to be externalized on national television?
Is the fact that there is a man with tremendous name recognition and an estimated net worth of 3.2 billion dollars who is considering a run for the US presidency newsworthy? Without question it is. What is unfortunate is that the newsworthy aspect of the story was overshadowed by the anti-Trump spin.
To further complicate matters dealing with the credibility of reported news, there is the issue of “fake news.” Consumers of news from any medium, be it television, print, or internet, now must be wary of the source. Not only must consumers ferret their way through the spin that major news outlets put on a story to advance their own agenda, but now those consumers often must also determine whether the event being reported even happened in the first place.
This post is not intended to be a bashing of Scott Pelley. I believe journalism, like many other professions, is not an easy job. To dig deep and get both sides of the story and find the truth and then report that truth fairly and accurately is a difficult task at best. I have witnessed Mr. Pelley engage in fair and impartial reporting on many occasions. I believe he is a good journalist. Rather the intent of this post is to point out how easily personal bias can creep into reporting of the news and how, if allowed to go unchecked, in some instances and particularly with some networks, that bias overcomes all efforts to simply report the news.
With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, “Where have you gone Walter Cronkite? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”