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“INFORMATION TO UNDERSTANDING” is right there on the masthead of Minority Reporter

Op-ed by Dom Genova

Photo from www.facebook.com/dom.genova.5

I was pleased to have Dave McCleary, the publisher of this newspaper, on my radio show a little while ago. One of the things we talked about was his policy to refrain from personally writing opinion pieces. His contention is that it may lead some readers to believe that the news reports in his newspaper contain his personal slant. To paraphrase Dave, news reports should not even have a hint of opinion — that is what the opinion pages are for.

I saw that philosophy illustrated by a journalist in a different way years ago, signing off each national CBS news broadcast with “and that’s the way it is “and the date.

His name was Walter Cronkite and his reputation for accuracy, facts and fairness led many to call him “the most trusted man in America”.

Each night, millions of people would dial up CBS TV news to hear Walter’s staccato delivery of the news. It was a time of three networks and no cable. It was the day of daily newspapers and no cell phones. It was different then.

Cronkite didn’t pander, speak to one audience for ratings, or tell you how to think. Walter Cronkite never let you know about his own political views. Walter shunned writing editorials, figuring it was not his job.

Cronkite’s TV career started when TV news was in its infancy.

After World War II, the fledgling TV networks instituted daily news shows, starting with just 15-minute reports.  One network believed that there was not enough national content available to report longer than 15 minutes and suggested that you “read tomorrow’s newspaper to learn more.”

Fifteen-minute news reports led to 30-minute news reports led to 24 hour “news only” TV and Radio. The internet super-charged the environment. The hunger for more details, more content and faster reporting led to more competition and less fact-checking.

From 1949 to 1987, the Federal Communications Commission had a Fairness Doctrine that required broadcasters to present both sides of an issue. The doctrine went away at about the time cable news was on the rise, leading some to argue that the demise of the Fairness Doctrine led to polarization of news outlets. That wasn’t necessarily the case, but the result is the same.

The intense competition between news outlets spawned a new tactic. No longer did the reporting of cold hard facts, properly vetted and without analysis, become as important. There are only so many facts and a lot of time to fill. To fill the time, you need more. You need, opinion. You need to spin. Some news outlets saw value in stoking emotions and to placate advertisers with their own political views. The consequence was to create audiences that seek news specifically slanted to one point of view regardless of the true facts. Just because one believes something passionately does not necessarily make it true. Human nature is that we all want to be right.

Cronkite only spoke out once, and it had a monumental effect.

It was February 27, 1968. This is the day he broadcasted a piece on the Vietnam war, contending the war was a “stalemate” and could not be won. It was such a pivotal report that Cronkite himself said in later years that President Johnson clicked off the TV saying, “If we lost Cronkite, we lost America”. Shortly thereafter Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term. The tide was turned. Cronkite’s opinion mattered because he had built power in his reputation for balance and his policy NOT expressing opinions lightly. He risked his reputation (and career) for a worthy cause. You could trust Cronkite because for all those years he refused to get pulled into debates of opinion. People believed what he reported, therefore his opinion had weight.

Please listen to my interview with Dave, you can get to it on www.NoNonsenseRoundtable.com, go to “past shows” there is also a link to YouTube. Dave will explain his journalistic philosophy and why he writes no “opinion pieces” himself. To paraphrase Dave, he believes it is his responsibility to report facts, not tell you what or how to think.

If there is someone who wants to write an opinion piece, he publishes it. There is a “firewall” separating the reporting and the opinion.

 I respect that.

He reminds me of Cronkite.

Dom Genova is a former car dealer who made his living as “The No-Nonsense Car Dealer.” Genova is the No-Nonsense Roundtable, a one hour show broadcast of iHeart’s 50,000 watt station in Rochester NY, NewsradioWHAM1180. Some of his guests are famous, others you may not know but should know. The radio broadcast is every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and is available later as an iHeart podcast or YouTube. Both can be found on www.NoNonsenseRoundtable.com.