Jim Lehrer's Guidlines Of "MacNeil/Lehrer Journalism"

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, renamed last week the PBS NewsHour, is hardly perfect journalism. FAIR is certainly not a fan, quantitatively documenting in 1990, 1995, and most recently in October 2006 that Republicans are featured more often than Democrats, that women make up just 18% of the guest list, and that only 4% of guests are "public interest advocates" and over 75% are "elites" such as government officials (50%). (I would be interested to see if the numbers on Democrats and women have changed since the Democratic take-over of Congress and Clinton's presidential campaign.)

Nevertheless, while the NewsHour is no NOW or Bill Moyers Journal, Lehrer and his team do approach the news with a certain seriousness and depth that is virtually non-existent on television anymore, and that is worth our appreciation if not our outright respect. Last week in a piece about the show's latest changes (new name, revamped website, etc.), Lehrer outlined his "guidelines... of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism." Regardless of whether or not you feel the NewsHour follows these practices, they are worthy standards that every journalist should aim for, and Lehrer is to be applauded for at least setting them in an era where few do. Would that every journalist kept them in mind - especially the last one, "I am not in the entertainment business."

  • Do nothing I cannot defend.
  • Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  • Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.
  • Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  • Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
  • Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.
  • Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  • I am not in the entertainment business.

Tags: Jim Lehrer, journalism, PBS (all tags)

Comments

6 Comments

Re: Jim Lehrer's Guidlines ...

Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

Er, isn't one of the problems with today's news media their insistence that every story has two sides? "Some say man shares a common ancestor with the apes... others disagree!"

Sometimes, all the facts are on one side.

by taradinoc 2009-12-11 12:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Jim Lehrer's Guidlines ...

In a democracy, there are always at least two sides to be told. All voices must be heard. That doesn't mean some don't need to be thoroughly debunked afterward. ;)

What I appreciate is that he said "at least" two sides rather than just two sides.

by Nathan Empsall 2009-12-11 07:56AM | 0 recs
I used to watch MacNeil/Lehrer

every night while I made dinner during the early 1990s. When I moved back to the U.S. in 2002, I started watching again, but I quickly lost interest because of the dominance of official/Republican viewpoints. I hadn't seen those reports you linked to; it was just an impression I got after a few months.

I think Lehrer is a good guy but scared of being pegged a liberal, so he bends over backwards to give the other side a stronger voice.

by desmoinesdem 2009-12-11 02:42AM | 0 recs
Are the criticisms valid?

I wonder if, for a news hour - the criticisms regarding the number of women guest panelists, or republican guest panelists - is something that need be balanced?

Political affiliation is a personal choice, and if it were an element or a deciding factor on the topic - I am sure it would be relevant - however when one is asked to provide a professional opinion on an objective news story - does one's political voting record come into play?

And of course, the same applies to women. There are fields in which there simply are not alot of women - If you were writing a story about yourself, would you include a woman, just to make sure you had enough women?

I , for one,  think the news hour does a good job and the statistics gathered are not entirely valid.

They're not perfect by any means, but basically , imho they're the best on the block.

by Trey Rentz 2009-12-11 04:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Are the criticisms valid?

I agree. Why should women or any other group make up any specific percentage? If you want to quantify bias I think you need to dig deeper. For example, if you were discussing abortion and 80% of those interviewed were men, none of whom can get an abortion, that would be a pretty damming statistic.

Also, what's the difference between 'elites' and 'interest groups'. Sounds made up.    

by GT 2009-12-11 07:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Are the criticisms valid?

They don't have a category named "elites," that was the label they used to pull several categories together - journalists, academics, politicians, etc. I think it was a fair label, although I'd be more inclined to say academics are more like public interest advocates (which were basically non-profits). You can click on the link to learn more.

I do agree that women don't need to make up a specific number, but 18% strikes me as pretty low. Still, I agree with Trey: "They're not perfect by any means, but basically , imho they're the best on the block."

by Nathan Empsall 2009-12-11 07:59AM | 0 recs

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