BY BRAD BUCHHOLZ | SEPTEMBER 2, 2020
The Honest Broker
"Over the last several years, I’ve become a devoted fan of Judy Woodruff and the PBS NewsHour – as citizens and journalists. I admire their work ethic, their no-frills professionalism, their quiet dedication to “getting it right.” In dishonest times, when everything seems to have a price tag or hidden motive, they strike me as “Honest Brokers.”
There’s a dignity to the journalism of the NewsHour. Compared to some of the cable channels, it’s delightfully old-school. The NewsHour isn’t about anchor-as-celebrity or flashy sets or political attitude. It’s about the work. It’s about the journalistic mission. As an every-day viewer, I sense that Woodruff and her staff believe reporting the news gives life to democracy.
I find the NewsHour refreshing – essential – in the age of Donald Trump and “alternative facts.” This is how so many journalists of our generation were trained: To care about the mission. To get out of the way of the story. To serve the citizen-viewer. First. With verifiable truth.
Do you know what else I love about the NewsHour? Its abiding cordiality. Courtesy and civility abide there … The viewer feels welcomed. Come in, join us in this reflective and substantial space. Guests on the show seem to feel the same way. Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, alike, know they will be treated with respect on a NewsHour interview segment – even as they know that Woodruff’s incisive questions await them. Woodruff – 73 years old now, and a NewsHour anchor since 2013 – has long embraced the reporter’s role, the anchor’s role, as that of an impartial advocate of the viewer. As in: “You are an observer, not a participant.” Hers is the abiding philosophy of the NewsHour. Present the facts. Offer them fairly, in context. Then let the viewer decide.
I believe in the NewsHour ethos. In fact, I’m downright protective of it. “Hey! The cynics among you who cry out ‘Fake News?’ Watch the PBS NewsHour. This is what integrity looks like. This is what every farmer, every teacher, every lunch-bucket American, every corporate chief and banker should expect of an honest, independent news program. Even-handedness? Fairness? Dignity? Your values are their values.”
I have a confession to make: The American in me, the journalist in me, is beginning to feel troubled. Lately, too often, I see political guests – especially Trump allies, Trump apologists, in interview or ‘live’ settings – exploit the NewsHour’s ethos. They take its even-handedness, its civility, its trust in shared American values, and manipulate it to their advantage.
Sometimes, I ask myself as I watch: Is the Honest Broker getting played? Are we, the citizens, getting played in the process? Do the Honest Brokers of American journalism stand a chance in the authoritarian-style street market brawl of the Trump administration? And what impact does that have on the future of our democracy?..."
"...The Republican National Convention offended me, jolted me, struck me numb with incredulity – both as a citizen and a journalist. I watched all four nights, most often in a spirit of melancholy. Has American discourse sunk to this? Really?
The convention, of course, had little to do with Republicans. Rather, it was about The Donald Trump Circus Act: Trump arrogance, Trump showmanship, the Trump family Shades of the Peróns, Juan and Evita.
“Shame,” I uttered softly, reflexively, as I watched the first two nights. Vainly, of course, perhaps stupidly, as I watched an event that felt more like bad theater than politics-in-action.
Donald Trump Jr. comparing Joe Biden to the Loch Ness monster? Florida Lieutenant Governor. Jeanette Nunez characterizing Trump as a “friend” of Puerto Rico? The anti-immigration president hosting a White House naturalization ceremony? Eric Trump stating, as truth, that Democrats want to “erase history . . . forget the past . . . burn the stars and stripes?” Mike Pompeo flaunting the Hatch Act in Jerusalem? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. imagery in the presence of a president who can’t utter the self-evident truth that “Black Lives Matter?” The Republican Party declaring victory over the coronavirus?
We’re not talking, here, about the freedom of speech in a Democracy. This is about the freedom to deceive, to distort, to lie.
“To recast Trump’s record on the coronavirus as a triumph isn’t revisionist history. It’s science fiction. It’s historical erasure . . .” Frank Bruni of The New York Times wrote in his column, “The Epic Shamelessness of the Republican Convention” the next day. “And the speakers at this convention dare to praise his outward focus, generosity of spirit, compassion and kindness? They are standing – no, grandstanding – at the confluence of audacity and absurdity.
“And they are scaring me, because they are demonstrating Trump’s most formidable advantage, which isn’t incumbency. It’s shamelessness.”
My moment of reckoning: Night Two, ending with the Melania Trump speech. What a heartbreaking spectacle. The Rose Garden as a political stage. The First Lady’s “runway walk” to the podium. And then the attempt to convince America that her husband is a man of compassion and virtue. An America that recognizes that he’s a misogynist, an America that has heard the content of the Access Hollywood tapes, an America that knows the long list of women who have accused him of sexual assault or misconduct.
At night’s end, PBS cut to the studio where Judy Woodruff and analyst Amy Walter sat at an anchors table. Flanking them were two giant screens tracking the Trumps as they departed the Rose Garden, hand-in-hand. The two-screen set at PBS seemed to amplify the oddness of it all: Two Donalds, two Melanias, larger than life, yet somehow normalized by their placement within the familiar frame of television, legitimized within the template of a traditional convention broadcast..."