Chuck Todd: Transparency Is the New Objectivity

Journalists gathered in Washington Thursday (March 8) to honor their own and call for solidarity--and solid reporting rather than snarky reporting--in the face of attacks from the President.

That was one of the takeaways from Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press at the Radio-Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF) First Amendment awards at a dinner in Washington Thursday night (March 8).

Related: RTDNF Names First Amendment Award Winners

Todd, who was receiving the First Amendment Award, said that the media had rightly been criticized for its coverage of the Iraq War (the mission that was not quite accomplished), and that the current battle against the Administration's brand of fake news was this news generation's Iraq war. "What we're doing now, this is our Iraq war," he said. "And if we blow this, if the public loses more faith in us because we don't cover this moment correctly, then we will have a problem when it comes to our own credibility."

Todd suggested that everyone was accountable for everyone else's reputation, meaning that their collective conduct, and sourcing, reflects not just an individual journalist, program or network, but the press as an institution. "We each have each other's reputations in our hands."

Todd said that when there is the temptation to be "a little snarky," remember others will be judged by that snarky comment. He said there are plenty of people motivated to undermine the news media for their own political gain. "Just keep that in mind. We just need to be fair, credible, honest and most of all transparency, the last which he called "the new objectivity," adding: "Show your work."

He also said that Nielsen "cannot be our senior producer" and "viral can't be a guiding light either."

CBS News President David Rhodes, who received the First Amendment Service Award, called for more responsibility from edge providers when it comes to news.  He said the country had gone from news and information scarcity to abundance in a short time. "Social media has changed the environment in which we make decisions," referring to the snap decisions that need to be made by humans, not algorithms.

He said social media platforms have not just made information ubiquitous, but by presenting it "only in the context of its popularity and not necessarily its authenticity. We try to balance right and wrong," he said, "and its not too much to ask social media to balance true and false."

Rhodes said some are arguing that press freedom has never been more “delicate,” but he said the political context is not all that different. He also warned against the argument that  the current political leadership requires a new approach to journalism, saying it was also an argument that  our high standards need to come down, and they shouldn’t.”

He said that while attacks on the press are at a high volume, but they are not necessarily more sophisticated than in the past.

He used as an example the recent release of an FBI file on the late CBS war correspondent and 60 Minutes pioneer Morley Safer, which was passed around the newsroom. Rhodes said the file showed that the FBI had investigated Safer only because his coverage of the Viet Nam war was deemed unfavorable.

Rhodes, who had the First Amendment posted permanently in the CBS News broadcast center for all to see, said journalist protections were a “thin read”—only four words “or of the press,” in a subordinate clause, no less, but that while it was thin, it was not fragile, and it was made to be used. “Use is,” he said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.