Jim Lehrer's Guidlines Of "MacNeil/Lehrer Journalism"
by Nathan Empsall, Thu Dec 10, 2009 at 08:45:37 PM EST
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.