Russert didn’t just preach diversity

RussertWWhile the unofficial state funeral of Tim Russert continues, the wall-to-wall media coverage has calmed down a bit. Frankly, I’m still in shock.

The wake drew very restrained coverage, as it should have. I expect major coverage after the private funeral and the public memorial service. The emphasis in recent coverage has been on the diverse nature of the political tributes, with little attention given to faith issues. But Russert was Russert, and Buffalo is still Buffalo. Here’s a piece of the Associated Press report by Stephen Ohlemacher:

(President) Bush, accompanied by the first lady, was one of the first people to enter the closed-casket wake, which was scheduled to last seven hours. The president stayed about 20 minutes while the growing crowd outside waited patiently on a pleasant, sunny day. The crowd was a mix of people in suits and dresses interspersed with a few wearing jeans and shorts — a wake for someone who had touched a wide variety of people. …

Rep. Louise Slaughter, a Democrat whose district includes part of the Buffalo area, said the loss is keenly felt in Russert’s hometown. Slaughter said she was reminded of Russert’s popularity by the wide variety of people in line at the wake.

“There were some from Syracuse, there were nuns from Springfield, Ill., and they all came out and stood in the sun to pay their respects,” Slaughter said. “It was just remarkable.”

As I said, there have been tributes to Russert from the left and the right. People keep talking about the impact of his Buffalo roots. People keep talking about his tough questions and reputation — on both sides of the aisle — for being tough and fair. This is not something that conservatives usually say about journalists whose career began in the office suites of powerful Democrats.

Which brings us to an interesting passage in, yes, a Wall Street Journal op-ed column by former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg. It is, of course, a discussion of media bias based on themes Goldberg has sounded early and often in his books on this subject.

Not many surprises there and certainly few about religion news. That is, until you hit this interesting passage on a theme close to the heart of this here weblog:

Tim was a big proponent of diversity, but he wanted to go further than the usual stuff. “I am for having women in the newsroom and minorities in the newsroom — I’m all for it. It opens up our eyes and gives us different perspectives. But just as well, let’s have people with military experience; let’s have people from all walks of life, people from the top-echelon schools but also people from junior colleges and the so-called middling schools — that’s the pageantry of America. … You need cultural diversity, you need ideological diversity. You need it.”

Tim understood that without that kind of diversity, journalism would be in trouble. He knew it wasn’t good for journalism or America if almost all the people reporting the news lived and worked in the same bubble.

“There’s a potential cultural bias. And I think it’s very real and very important to recognize and to deal with,” he told me. “Because of backgrounds and training you come to issues with a preconceived notion or a preordained view on subjects like abortion, gun control, campaign finance. I think many journalists growing up in the ’60s and the ’70s have to be very careful about attitudes toward government, attitudes toward the military, attitudes toward authority. It doesn’t mean there’s a rightness or a wrongness. It means you have to constantly check yourself.”

“Why the closed-mindedness when the subject comes around to media bias?” I asked him.

“That, to me, is totally contrary to who we’re supposed to be as journalists. … If someone suggested there was an anti-black bias, an anti-gay bias, an anti-American bias, we’d sit up and say, ‘Let’s talk about this, let’s tackle it.’ Well, if there’s a liberal bias or a cultural bias we have to sit up and tackle it and discuss it. We have got to be open to these things.”

And all the journalists said, “Amen.” Maybe.

view of new yorkIf those quotes do not work for you, consider these from that soul-searching memo not that long ago by New York Times editor Bill Keller. He was responding to a blue-ribbon self study — entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust” (text here) — that stressed that the newspaper of record needed to do a better job covering “unorthodox views” and the lives of those “more radical and more conservative” than most journalists.

There was more:

“We should increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention. … We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar).”

The report noted that it might help if Times editors sought out some “talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths.” This echoed similar themes in a major study done by the Pew Forum on the People and the Press that focused on issues of journalism, class and values.

In light of all that, Keller wrote:

Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported — and understood — in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. …

I also endorse the committee’s recommendation that we cover religion more extensively, but I think the key to that is not to add more reporters who will write about religion as a beat. I think the key is to be more alert to the role religion plays in many stories we cover, stories of politics and policy, national and local, stories of social trends and family life, stories of how we live. This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.

And you know what Russert would say to that: “Amen.”

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Everyone knows newspaper and news magazine and network news consumption is down bigtime and falling rapidly. Yet the liberal media sticks its head in the sand like an ostrich. They just blame the internet and other new sources of info. But they refuse to see it is a “push-pull” situation. The new media sources are pulling people away from “traditional” liberal news sources while those liberal sources– by their near fanatical (see how it is covering the gay “marriage issue”) political and social radicalism is pushing millions to seek other sources of news.

  • tmatt

    Once again, Deacon, that is a straw man argument.

    Do not paint everyone in the mainstream with the same brush. This blog highlights tons of quality work in major newsrooms. You should praise that work and call for more.

    We have plenty of one-sided, advocacy publications and there will be more, I am sure, in the WWW age.

    Support real journalism that reports new information on both sides. Cheer for it and demand it.

  • Jerry

    Terry speaks for me. I’m sorry I did not pay more attention to Tim Russert’s show before now. I missed one of the great ones.

  • Dave

    The big enemy of any effort to bring diversity to the newsroom is not established liberal/elite bias, but the continuing downsizing of the news business.

  • FW Ken

    Well, viva the downsizing! Call me arrogant, but I actually believe I can read a lot of stuff figure out for myself what I think without some editor selecting what news I read/hear. Sure, there’s a lot of garbage on the internet, but like the Catholic Church, there’s a lot of everything, good, bad, and ugly. And from my point of view: bring it on!

    It’s a different world than the 60s; the Fort Worth of my youth was basically white over here, black over there, and a little bit of brown way up on the northside. Today, I heard about Nigerian burial customs today from a Nigerian friend at work. I listened to an Arabic comedy while the guy got my lunch together at the little store across the street (which my dad ran 50 years ago). The young woman at the ice cream store need 3 repetitions of my order for a double dip ice cream cone, then finally another woman told her in Spanish what I wanted. An Indian priest I know tells me you can get 5 Hindi language stations on the satellite dish. The Koreans have the donut franchise, the Arabs have the convenience stores, and we have at least 2 Vietnamese shopping centers (3 large Vietnamese Catholic parishes).

    The plain vanilla news media – print or broadcast – just doesn’t do the job anymore. Of course, the more you focus on “diversity”, the less diversity you seem to have. We need it all, unfiltered. Sure, people will come to conclusions different than mine. That doesn’t mean they are stupid sheep, being led astray by manipulative forces of satan. Sure people (me) will gravitate toward things that interest them and viewpoints they find congenial. That doesn’t mean a narrow focus. I learn some of the most interesting things from folks who are a like me in some ways, but different in other ways.

    Well, this is probably off-topic and ripe for spiking. But personally, I’m all for more real diversity.

  • tmatt

    FW Ken:

    Another straw man.

    The question is this: How do you fund the creation of a wide variety of new information, local, regional, national and global?

    Yes, globalization is real. But nothing can replace the basic wire services. About 99.9 percent of the blogging around is based on information provided by the basic, foundational media of major news services and the newspapers that fund them.

    Get yourself a copy of “The News About The News” by Downie and Kaiser.

  • FW Ken

    Mr. Mattingly –

    Gee, I didn’t think my comment was controversial, much less a straw man argument (against what?) Ok, maybe “viva the downsizing” was negative, but what I’m generally against is monopolies. Nothing against the basic wire services, why be limited to them? There’s hardly any news value on Zenit, which is usually a small step above the pope’s daily diary. But it’s interesting to me, and sometimes it’s a good source for what the pope actually said, not what some reporter says he said, and what some editor thinks we should here. Again, not of great news value, even on a slow news day. But I’m glad it’s there, and it’s free, unlike the Dallas Morning News, which just went to $.75.

    Is it controversial to note that what’s in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (which is still 50 cents) is selected by editors who’s bias, balanced with reader considerations and other business concerns, leads to choices that are necessarily limited. Ok, so the blogs are mostly links to news sources. Links go some interesting places my local paper doesn’t quite hit. It isn’t a blog, but consider this tidbit from a source where I read things I don’t read elsewhere:

    Carl Trueman, a professor at the school founded by J. Gresham Machen in 1929 as an alternative to the increasingly liberal Princeton Theological Seminary, regrets that some are leaving evangelicalism for Catholicism. But, he says, their departure makes sense considering the state of the church.
    “I think the attraction of Rome is in large part generated by the fact that one needs a reason not to be Catholic, and that the classic Protestant reasons for not being so have largely vanished,” Trueman says.

    That’s from a news review from Bob Jones University Yes, part of my affection for that site is the irony, but they have really interesting stuff I don’t see elsewhere and present it matter-of-fact, not commentary.

    The internet was originally a government funded project, if I remember correctly, but then attracted enough people to attract commercial activity. At this point, I don’t see the issue with funding.

    But you know, the real interest is when you get information unmediated by, well, the media. You have a post on an article by Julia Duin and, by gum, Julia Duin stops by and say her bit. Pastor Rick Warren shows up and sets the record straight: what wire service has that? Way long ago I remember a fellow who was at an abortion clinic shooting in Boston. His version was quite different than what I read in the papers (except for one article in an Arizona paper, which article I would not have otherwise seen). Being a grown up raised on the story about the blind men and the elephant, I know to be somewhat skeptical; however, I apply that same skepticism to what I read in the established news sources.

    Real diversity opens up new visions of the human condition. It reveals twists and turns of our souls, created in the image of God, fallen into our own sin, and redeemed in Christ. Real diversity shines different kinds of light into different parts of our common humanity. That’s what I’m talking about.