Jim Lehrer, famous PBS news anchor and presidential debate moderator, spoke about journalism and politics at Bellarmine University on March 24. Lehrer’s lecture was titled “Marvelously, It Could Be Worse,” and described why politics and journalism in the United States needs to improve.
“Cable news networks are now just people yelling loudly from the right and people yelling loudly from the left,” Lehrer said. “Reporters aren’t journalists anymore. They’re commentators.”
Lehrer believes that social media plays a role in this too. Although social networking sites, especially Twitter, do allow more people to give their opinion, they can also lead to misinformation, or people using something as a news source that is not actually a legitimate news source.
“We used to be voting on the same issues because most of us read similar newspapers,” Lehrer explained. “With the internet, there is a flood of information and a flood of opinions to the point where we are no longer voting for the same issues in some cases because our news sources are so opinionated.”
Lehrer also thinks, however, that most people will always be able to make the distinction between real news and its more entertaining and opinionated counterparts.
“People still depend on reporters and hold them apart from comedians and commentators and entertainers,” Lehrer said.
The flood of news and information has also had a positive effect for a lot of people. Lehrer cites the revolutions in Egypt and Syria as good examples of this.
“They thought, ‘if they can do it, so can we,’” Lehrer said. “So yes, we are drowned in correct and incorrect information. But it could be worse, because for these people, it has already been worse.”
Lehrer also thinks that citizens of the United States need to work on the way they discuss issues and disagree without attacking opponents.
“We have lost our ability to civilly discourse. There will always be differences because luckily, we live in an open society, but we have lost the ability to respectfully disagree,” Lehrer explained. “We can learn more from listening than talking and more from talking than shouting.”
That being said, he also thinks that citizens need to bring matters of importance to the attention of the government and question decisions made by government officials.
“Raising hell is every American’s right, with raising hell being constructive criticism,” Lehrer said.
As for his advice to young journalists, it’s pretty simple.
“Respect the truth and the facts and the people you report on,” Lehrer said. “Always look for every angle in a story and remember that you are a journalist, so do your job.”