FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The First Anchorman

The death of Walter Cronkite is an appropriate time to reflect on what’s happened to journalism in America.

Walter and I came to CBS around the same time, in the early 1950s. Sig Mickelson, head of the CBS News and Public Affairs division, at the time, brought Walter in to anchor the first television coverage of a presidential election convention in 1952 and incidentally coined the term “anchorman”.

Irving Gitlin, who ran the Public Affairs section, under Mickelson, brought me in to produce documentaries. In most cases, network correspondents came out of print journalism, television news producers out of film documentaries. Fred Friendly, who started the controversial program “See It Now” in 1951, came out of radio and always thought of television as radio with pictures, and admitted it.

Cronkite embodied the spirit of television journalism. In the 1960s and 70s, there was still some leeway for experimentation. I produced a number of news documentaries with Walter as host and narrator during that period.

In those days, the networks were still mostly independently owned—they had not yet been conglomerated.

William S. Paley, a cigar-maker in Philadelphia created the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from a small radio network he bought in order to advertise his cigars.

By 1981, when Walter Cronkite handed over the CBS anchor desk to Dan Rather, the process of mergers and acquisitions was well under way.

Television networks were created in order to provide programming to affiliate local stations. The cost of producing the entertainment or news programs was financed through advertising; so commercial operations got into the game from the very beginning. Profits were shared between the network and their affiliated stations.

In the beginning, each network was limited to owning and operating only five local stations, (called the o&os), usually in the major markets, but they serviced many affiliates.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent US government agency, established by the Communications Act of 1934, was charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC makes and is supposed to enforce the rules.

Rule #1—the Fairness Doctrine. In news and public affairs programming, stations must present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that is “honest, equitable and balanced” in the Commission’s view or they could be subject to losing their broadcast license.

I haven’t heard of a case where a station lost its license for this reason, but I guess there must be one. However, in 1987, the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine. Oh, well, I guess it didn’t matter.

With the coming of color and the cable news networks, television became even more marinated in commercialism than it was when there were only three commercial networks.

As early as 1961, Newton Minow, then-head of the FCC made his famous “vaste wasteland” speech before the National Association of Broadcasters convention. Minow gave the broadcasters unshirted hell for not doing more to serve the public interest.

But that message went in one ear and out the other.

As time went on, the FCC kept loosening the reins, allowing the networks more and more latitude, not only in accumulating more and more o&os, but in deregulating mergers and acquisitions as well.

Today, the mainstream media is in a sorry state. Six corporate media giants with a stranglehold on information, control most of what we see, hear, and read. The five largest are AOL Time-Warner; the Walt Disney Company that now owns the ABC Television Network; Bertelsmann, a German firm with more than $15 billion in media assets; Sumner Redstone’s Viacom that owns CBS; Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation that controls and runs Fox News on TV and the New York Post on paper and all the news they fix to print.

In addition, they all have interests in major movie studios, other TV channels and networks, cable companies, most of the music companies, book publishing, retail stores, amusement parks, video games, and merchandising and on and on.

Such a concentration of media power in so few hands violates every known theory of a free market place of ideas that is the essence of democracy.

“While television is supposed to be free,” said Walter Lippmann, prominent journalist, in 1959, “it has, in fact, become the creature, the servant and indeed the prostitute of merchandising.”

Despite his distain for commercial television, Lippmann also exhibited his distain for the intelligence of the American public. He didn’t think they were smart enough to understand complex political issues. The public needed journalists to filter the news for them; elites to interpret what policy-makers and politicians were doing, something called “manufacturing consent” as defined by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book by that name, subtitled “The Political Economy of the Mass Media”.

In their view, the media serves and propagandizes for “powerful societal interests” that controls and finances them. These interests have important agendas that they want to advance and they have the means with which to do it. It is not accomplished by crude intervention but by the “selection of right-thinking personnel, by editors and working journalists who internalize the priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.”

Reporters working in the field call it “Do-It-Yourself Censorship”. You have to know just how far you can push the envelope or you won’t be working in the field very long.

The big change in television came when news became a profit center. With the collapse of the Fairness Doctrine and the laxity of the FCC, the News Departments at the Networks no longer felt they had to perform a public service. “Earn your own way, Buddy. Get a sponsor. Show a profit.” News shows started running commercials.

This was the new media world Walter Cronkite saw coming. He didn’t like it, either.

Good-bye, Walter.

Good night and good luck, as Ed Murrow would say.

And that’s the way it is.

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See www.amahchewahwah.com, e-mail stevefl@ca.rr.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

STEPHEN FLEISCHMAN, writer-producer-director of documentaries, spent thirty years in Network News at CBS and ABC. His memoir is now in print. See www.amahchewahwah.com, e-mail stevefl@ca.rr.com

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail