NBC recently announced it is reducing its number of employees, including newsroom staff, by 700 people. Kaplow recalls then-NBC News president Robert Kintner's commitment to news because of Kintner's journalism background. Today's network presidents have no journalism experience. Their main concern is that their news divisions make money and story selection is made, in part, to please sponsors, something that never would have happened in the days of Huntley and Brinkley. Kintner told the news division to do solid news and the entertainment division would make money. Now, news too often resembles entertainment, and the public suffers.
Jack Perkins was a "writer" for Brinkley, which was something like being a painter for Michelangelo, because Brinkley wrote his own copy. He says of the Huntley and Brinkley types and what they represented, "We don't have them anymore, the erudition and lapidary writing of David, the intoned authority of Chet. What we have is different and in some ways better (the technology), some ways worse (the pandering to celebrity and the mundane)."
Perkins blames Don Hewitt of CBS News for beginning the decline: "He started the trend by showing that prime time, or in his case, near-prime time news ("60 Minutes") could make a lot of money. So before we knew it, network news divisions, which had always scorned the prostituting Œjournalists' of the supermarket tabloids, began emulating them. If it could work in prime time, it could work in news time."
When a great and accomplished person passes from the scene through retirement or death, some like to say, "There will never be anyone like him again." That is true of Huntley and Brinkley, not because there are none to equal them, but because management no longer wants their type. You can see why by reading some of Brinkley's books or watching tapes of "The Huntley-Brinkley Report" when you visit New York's Museum of Broadcast Communications or Vanderbilt University's Television News Archive in Nashville. These guys had class and conveyed credibility and authority.
Huntley and Brinkley flourished during broadcast journalism's Camelot. For younger journalists, like me, who knew them and were inspired by them, we not only miss these men; we miss what they represented. In our self-centered, consumer age, their kind are unlikely to pass our way again.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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