NBC Legend, Rising Star Take The Stage In Robsham Theater
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
On the stage of a packed Robsham Theater on Tuesday, NBC News journalists Tom Brokaw, H ’90, and Luke Russert, BC ’08, had a conversation about the current state of the media in America, the presidential election, and the duties of our generation. As part of the Chambers Lecture Series, The Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics sponsored the event, titled “Ethics in the Newsroom,” which functioned as a casual public interview of Brokaw on an array of topics relevant in American news today.
“I see a lot of undergrads here. I hope you weren’t forced to come to this for class credit,” joked Russert at the beginning of his introductory speech, in which he spoke about the ways Boston College had played into his development as a man and as a journalist. He asserted that BC had forced him to look at situations from many different perspectives instead of confining himself to conventional wisdom, and that here he had learned self-sacrifice and the necessity of being active rather than apathetic.
He then segued into the media focus of the event.
“We live in a media age where speed is put above all else … a media age based on speed above truth,” he said. He denounced the emerging trend of sacrificing accuracy in order to break the story first.
“I believe, as a journalist, it’s our ethical duty, for those of us who still believe in non-partisan news, to educate and inform the viewer or the reader or the listener, and let them make their own decision,” he said.
Russert then moved to the center of the stage to sit next to Brokaw in a pair of leather armchairs and ask him a series of questions about American media and politics, as well as the intersection of the two.
One of Brokaw’s major messages was the responsibility of the reader in this day and age to figure out what is reliable and what is not. “There’s more opinion out there now, and there’s more places you can go to get it,” Brokaw said. “You have the opportunity with a keystroke to go anywhere in the world that you want to to get information. You can’t be a couch potato anymore. You’ve got to work harder at it, and sort out what works for you, what is reliable.”
He discussed how the news has always been partisan, but what has changed is the frequency and availability of the news, meaning it falls on the reader to discern for himself the best way to get it.
He did, however, acknowledge social media as a real and potentially beneficial addition to the world of newsgathering. He commended Russert on his Twitter “play-by-play” of the presidential debate in Denver last Wednesday.
“He was the John Madden of tweeting,” Brokaw said. He also celebrated the fact that Facebook and Twitter have made audible the voices of very intelligent people who would not have otherwise been heard.
“We’re going to be using all these instruments to get access to information, to what is going on. The problem is too many people just put their head down and they’re more interested in what they have to say than in what’s going on on the screen or right in front of them.”
He once again urged people to spend time deducing whether or not news sources are legitimate, and not pay undue attention to anonymous bloggers. “If you’ve got something to say, you need to have the courage to put your name on it,” he said.
When asked if he believed that the country had ever been this polarized before, Brokaw once again pointed to the constant availability of varied news sources as one of the culprits.
“There is much more awareness of it now because of the ease with which people can get the information,” he said. “It does polarize because there are interests out there, across the political spectrum, across the economic spectrum, who want to do that—they want to isolate you.”
Brokaw and Russert also discussed the recent presidential debate, and the campaign race in general. Brokaw expressed his belief that the race will come down to the “independent married couple” that is not sold on either candidate—the deciding factor will be who can win over the voters like them.
“I do think [the campaign] has been great for the country, and here’s why: so much that we have taken for granted has disappeared beneath our feet,” he said. “The idea that you could buy a house, and it would be the most secure investment … if you sent your child to college it would be worth the price because he or she could get a job when they got out. That has turned out not to be the case. The country is extraordinarily wary, and with very good reason. So they’re watching this [campaign] in a way, and I don’t remember them ever being so tuned in and demanding specifics. So I think big ideas will be the test between now and the first Tuesday in November.”
When asked the final question, concerning political apathy in the United States right now, Brokaw took the opportunity to urge the students at BC, and that entire generation, to step up to the plate.
“The test is whether or not your generation has within it the determination to change the world,” he said.