Panel Discussion at Nov. 3, 2016 NPC Luncheon
A week before the unprecedented 2016 American election, four veteran journalists, Judd Cribbs, Phil Jones, Jeff Lytle and Bob Orr, treated 56 Press Club of Southwest Florida luncheon attendees to a timely, in-depth discussion of the controversial role of the media in this election. NPC member David Silverberg served as moderator.
Judd Cribbs, assistant professor of journalism, Florida Gulf Coast University, and a former writer, reporter and managing editor in the Cincinnati area, began by asking, “What is media? What is an active journalist?” He talked about mainstream media, blogs, and social media that get millions of hits. “News and entertainment is almost merging,” said Cribbs, “coming ever closer together. There is digital media from the participants, the candidates, soundbites from here, there, everywhere—like rain from the sky. We are all constantly bombarded with information. There is reporting, re-reporting, and re-tweeting,” he said, “and who is doing the due diligence? Not only that, but what agenda is involved, what bias is going on? Is it relevant to what is happening now? And, what is the responsibility of the consumers?”
Phil Jones, a former 32-year reporter for CBS, reporting from Vietnam and Capitol Hill, covering stories that included Watergate, Iran-Contra and the Clinton administration, began by saying, “Let’s set the record straight—I’m not here to defend the Press and the Media. We haven’t seen anything like this before, but this train wreck has been coming down this track before.” He named five culprits: (1) Money. “The $5 billion spent on this election is twice the amount spent on the previous election.” (2) The Establishment. “Originally, the Republican Establishment said our candidate will be Jeb Bush, and the Democratic Establishment said our candidate will be Hillary Clinton—it’s her turn.” (3) Barack Obama. “He came in with the attitude that it’s his way or the highway. In my opinion, he did nothing to compromise or cooperate, and then the Republicans replied in kind, primarily through Mitch O’Connell.” (4) Media Ratings. “Trump may not be good for the country, but he’s good for CBS. Trump was good for the ratings of the cable news networks, which sucked the air out of the contest and no one else was seriously considered. All the media is profiting,” said Jones. “Bias and greed have tarnished journalism forever—and shame on you.”
Jeff Lytle served as editorial page editor of the Naples Daily News for 25 years; he authored about 9,000 editorials and hosted the newspaper’s Sunday television talk show, “Naples Daily News Makers.” “Early on there was an obsession with Donald Trump because he was a celebrity,” said Lytle, “and recently one of the CNN News executives has apologized for not calling him out.” He continued: “Grenades and short attention spans have ruled during this election, along with the lack of civility.” Lytle said he felt that the big networks and mainstream press served as a mirror, rather than impacting the election. “The primary causes for this,” Lytle said, “were Access Hollywood, the fact that we were hungry for more information and the mainstream media wasn’t always there.” Lytle suggested that two things the media could do to be better would be to call out the use and misuse of the word ‘liar’ and to stop election shams like the fraudulent write-in candidates.
Bob Orr, a former Justice and Homeland Security correspondent for CBS News, previously covered law enforcement issues ranging from global and domestic terror to school shootings to organized crime. “This election is a master of disaster,” said Orr, “and right in the middle of this election is the FBI. The media is reacting to things—that’s the problem with this campaign. Original reporting is difficult to find.” Orr gave an example: “The Wall Street Journal did a good take-out on the tax plans of Trump and Clinton, and there were 119 reader comments. When the media aired the locker-room talk piece, there were 33,000 comments!” Orr continued: “The media is certainly guilty of pandering.” He pointed out that the stolen emails/Wiki-leaks were pretty damming for the inner workings of the Clinton machine, and the media should have investigated that. “In this year, the media has been the tool of outside interests, with very little serious reporting being done.”
During the Q&A time, one NPC member asked, “Why do they allow reporters to put their personal opinions in their stories?” Cribbs answered that there’s a snowball effect. “And when they get so many hits, what is the motivation to change?” He also pointed out that a one-hour news show has 45 news stories and allows approximately 22 minutes for commercials.
Another NPC member asked, “Who is going to win?” Three panelists answered “Clinton” and one answered “Trump.”
Orr talked about echo journalism—reports aired with only one source. “There is institutional bias out there, but we all have the responsibility to check out more sources, more viewpoints. Plus, it seems to be more about entertainment than news; the entertainment tail is wagging the information dog. Now we live in nine-second soundbites. We have short attention spans.” Orr also felt that no one is working for the good of the country.
Another NPC member, a former TV news director, said the 30-minute network news shows have no time for news analysis.
Lytle pointed out that you should first watch NBC or CBS nightly news, then watch PBS. He said that it‘s amazing; the difference is that with PBS there is no flash, and no bells or whistles.
Jones said, “You have seen the enemy, and it’s us.” He added: “It seems that no one cares. We’re divided, we’re scattered. The art of compromise is lost.”
Cribbs pointed out that reporters email or text sources instead of speaking with them, looking at them, engaging in a civil conservation with them, or listening to them. Some people get their information from raw U-Tube footage.
Silverberg pointed out that when the Fairness Doctrine was lifted, under President Reagan, it made possible the disappearance today of checks and balance.
Orr replied that, in a free society, the only check we have on this unmitigated power is the people. “We have to take that responsibility more seriously—we need to inform as well as entertain. We live in a time of more connection, but we’re less informed.”
Lytle said that it’s not like it used to be; it’s expensive to be a watchdog. And it’s the leadership of editors and executives that can restore that, or not. He indicated he thought that the divisiveness is misrepresented in the media, but the business model is based on that.
Jones said, “I don’t think that America will ever return to the days of independent media. No one is interested in the facts. They just want the headline, and they move on. We need to make independent media great again.”
Cribbs wrapped up the discussion, saying, “When the media is viewed as a cash machine, we need to start a grassroots movement to turn it around.”