Oh, Journalist, Where Art Thou?

Oh, Journalist, Where Art Thou?

Recently, I was appalled by more than one of our most noted news reporters…


By Rebecca Redshaw

The best part of being a playwright and author is that you get to make “stuff” up. That’s why when I began free-lancing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette three years ago and donned the journalist’s hat, I took the work very seriously. No before-dinner drink and no napping during concerts to be reviewed. Interviews were always tape recorded for accuracy of potential quotes and even though I might have been tempted, my author’s urge to embellish never made its way on to the page.

Recently, I was appalled by more than one of our most noted news reporters. Granted there have always been differences between print media personnel and television and radio personalities.

Diane Sawyer hosted a two-hour installment of Primetime on ABC featuring Rosie O’Donnell and the issue of gay adoption. Not necessarily being a fan of either Diane or Rosie, I found the issue intriguing and frankly, have great respect for both now on clearly exploring a difficult issue.

The next day on two separate broadcasts, two of the industry’s most infamous personalities responded to the program in a fashion that can only be described as ignorant.

Sixty Minutes icon Mike Wallace appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live to promote an upcoming segment. When Larry posed the question as to his opinion of the Sawyer interview, Wallace answered that he “hadn’t seen the show” but he was an old-fashioned kind of guy and felt that traditional parents (i.e. one man/one woman) should raise children. He continued his ego trip by asking King if he didn’t agree.

King who has made a living being non-confrontational with his guests almost took a stand. “I’m not so sure we’re right about that,” was his comment. Of course, King had not seen the Sawyer interview either.

That same day Bill O’Reilly appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. When Stewart broached the topic of Sawyer’s interview which neither of the men had seen, O’Reilly went on adamantly [this is paraphrased since I wasn’t aware I’d be quoting O’Reilly – ever] about how he didn’t understand why homosexuals needed to parade their bedroom activities in front of the camera.

Anyway, he knew Rosie was promoting a book. O’Reilly completed the interview with Stewart by promoting his latest book.

One might think putting a respected journalist like Wallace in the same column as muckraker O’Reilly is doing him disservice but I’m not so sure. Without the slick editing of the Sixty Minutes staff, Wallace came off as a dottering, close-minded octogenarian with Ronald Reagan hair color. Did both of these men think their opinion on something they hadn’t seen should hold more water than the man on the street?

Years ago, I was confronted by a radio personality at a party when I dissed Howard Stern.

“Have you heard his show?” Well, frankly I hadn’t but I realized then I had a responsibility as a journalist to find out the facts before I voiced an opinion.

So, I’ve listened to Howard Stern and Laura Schlessinger and Rush Limbaugh at least long enough to sample the general tone of their so-called entertainment.

Maybe it’s the pressure of daily ratings in a competitive market and justification of their outrageous salaries that lowers the bar of credibility.

Print journalists at least seem to research their work more thoroughly. Frank Rich (a favorite of mine because I love it when a theatre critic makes the leap to intellectual credibility) writes in-depth editorials for the New York Times most Saturdays. Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins somehow is able to make me laugh and understand the twists and turns of Enron.

Speaking of Enron – a friend of mine said he couldn’t wait until “the lid blew off the scandal bigger and more damaging to America than Watergate.”

I don’t know if there are Woodward and Bernstein’s out there. I have a feeling there are but the Ben Bradlee courage backed by the power of Kathryn Graham, both of The Washington Post, may have all but disappeared from the corporate controlled media.

And Rosie? Sharing the two hour spot with a gay couple from Florida who are raising five foster children that no heterosexual couple would touch because they were sick, Rosie was eloquent in expressing her passion for fairness, particularly for children.

Too bad Mike Wallace and Bill O’Reilly didn’t see the show before making fools of themselves.