Tag Archive: Woodward and Bernstein

“In seeking truth you have to get both sides of a story.” – Walter Cronkite, CBS anchor from 1962-1981

When asked what sports historians would take away from his record (e.g., five home runs) performance in the 1977 World Series, Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson paused and humbly proclaimed: “The magnitude of me.”

What about the “magnitude” of former CBS anchor Dan Rather?

The question is particularly relevant today as former CBS anchor Dan Rather is attempting a relevancy comeback at 86-years-old.

With his new book, “What Unites Us, Reflections on Patriotism,” Rather appears to be trying to escape the embarrassing details of his bitter 2005 termination … err resignation.

More to Almost DailyBrett’s point: Should Rather be seen as The Father of Affirmational Journalism?

Affirmational Journalism? Do these two words constitute an oxymoron?

Affirmational Journalism (e.g., Rather) is the mirror opposite of Informational Journalism (e.g., Cronkite).

Under the tenets of Informational Journalism, a news outlet will sift through the relevant facts and information – including both sides of every story — and deduce a logical conclusion for readers or viewers to decide.

Is there any wonder that Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America in 1972?

The esteem for American Journalism peaked in 1976 at 72 percent (e.g., Gallup survey), shortly after Woodward and Bernstein’s Pulitzer Prize reporting and the demise of the Nixon administration. The same poll revealed that public trust for the media plummeted for four decades to 32 percent in 2016.

What happened to the days when the vital First Amendment mission of the media was to inform and enlighten?

Enter Rather as the successor to Cronkite in the CBS anchor chair in 1981. Shortly thereafter, the seeds of today’s Affirmational Journalism were planted.

Certainly, there were outlets in 1972 and beyond that editorially represented the left (e.g., New York Times) and the right (e.g., Wall Street Journal), but the news pages of these publications were essentially straight.

Rather: Keynoting the GOP National Convention?

“(Rather) stepped on his own dick.” – Ronald Reagan, 1988

Two celebrated incidents involving Republican presidents (not Democratic) clearly demonstrated how Rather’s aim was to “affirm” preset narratives, not to totally “inform:”

  1. His rudeness against then Vice President George H.W. Bush in a cataclysmic 1988 live interview, which included Bush reminding the world that Rather stormed off his set one year before, when a U.S. Open tennis match ran too long.
  2. Rather’s ill-fated 2004 60 Minutes piece (e.g., Rathergate), confusing the fonts of an IBM Selectric with those offered by Microsoft. The forged 1972 document reportedly proved that President George W. Bush received special treatment as a member of the National Guard. Alas for Rather, the letter was written with a Microsoft font.

Microsoft was not founded until 1975 – three years later. Oops.

Dan Rather was exposed for his eagerness and glee to accept any “fact” that fit a preordained narrative about George W. Bush and his National Guard service. More importantly, he and his producer, Mary Mapes, were terminated at CBS for practicing Affirmational Journalism, which sought out tidbits (e.g., the forged letter) that affirmed and fit the story and excluding those (e.g., Microsoft font) that did not.

Rather’s mission was to “affirm” through selective reporting the predisposed reigning political philosophy of elites residing east of the Hudson and within the confines of the Beltway:

Democrat John Kerry was good; Republican George W. Bush needed to be excused from office.

Today, the list of affirmational elite media on the left is long: New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC. The list of affirmational media on the right is shorter: Fox News.

Whether these major media outlets reside on the left or the right, their mission is to affirm, sustain and enhance entrenched narratives that advance a chosen political philosophy.

Is Dan Rather solely responsible for this movement toward affirming, whether through interpretation or presenting, preordained narratives? No. There are others.

Is he the poster child for affirmational journalism and with it a record 32 percent low in national esteem for the media? Almost DailyBrett is making that assertion.

Affirmational Journalism Schools?

As a college assistant professor in a school of communication, the author of Almost DailyBrett worries that future journalists will be trained to seek facts and figures that fit a preconceived narrative, and ignore those inconvenient points that potentially contradict the “story.”

Are the ends of supporting an adopted political philosophy more important than the means of not presenting both sides of a story? If that is indeed the case and we are no longer informing the public about the positions of both sides, can we call this behavior Journalism?

There are some of us who yearn for the better days of a free-and-fair media.  The Fourth Estate can potentially come back; just the same way Rather is trying to revive his tarnished reputation.

Can the media return to the days of Informational Journalism? Or is Affirmational Journalism here to stay, contributing to and hardening our divided society for years to come?

Maybe if the media moves to adopt the model of Walter Cronkite — not Dan Rather — we will all be better off as an American society.

We can only hope.








These are not the best of days for American reporters, editors and correspondents, let alone journalism schools.

The American media is running eight points behind Donald Trump in national esteem.

This Gallup result was registered before CNN’s Anderson Cooper conjured up the impression of the president taking a “dump” on his desk. Ditto for the network’s Kathy Griffin holding up the image of the decapitated head of Donald Trump.

The glory days of Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are clearly in the rear-view mirror. The era of CNN and conjured presidential excrement and bloody heads are upon us.

More to the point, Newsweek ist kaputt. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is gone. Farewell to the Rocky Mountain News, The Tucson Citizen and so many others that depended on Gutenberg’s printing press for far too long.

Let’s face it: many Fourth Estate types (i.e., reporters, editors, correspondents, anchors …) are looking for jobs, any job that keeps them in the business.

The good news is China is hiring. The bad news is China is hiring.

Should these journalists succumb and work for Chinese-government-sponsored and operated media?

Dollars are dollars. Yuan are yuan. Right?

Ketchum, Putin and $55 million

Before getting knickers in a twist or bowels in an uproar, consider that Almost DailyBrett has posed similar questions about the august public relations profession, namely Ketchum PR.

For years, Ketchum served a provocative client, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, to the tune of $55 million cumulatively. The ostensible mission was to promote the Rodina’s “economic development” and the country as a great place for “investment.” The fact that Putin was behaving as one would expect from the former head of the KGB appeared to be irrelevant to the brass at Ketchum’s New York headquarters.

Reportedly Putin eventually terminated the nation’s contract with Ketchum, which may have been a blessing in disguise for the New York based agency. No longer would they have to register as foreign agents for Putin’s public relations nightmare in which he wasn’t going to accept Ketchum’s council anyway.

The advocacy side (PR) of the great communication divide is not the only one with moral dilemmas to confront. The same applies to the objective side (Journalism), particularly with so many journalists out of work or soon-to-be beating the bushes for another job.

According to The Economist, China expanded the number of foreign bureaus for its government-controlled main news agency, Xinhua, to 162 by the end of 2011. China’s goal is to establish a total of 200 Xinhua bureaus by 2020.Considering the many American media outlets are shutting down, does the Xinhua expansion – doubling its number of correspondents — provide new opportunities for employment?

Also consider that China completed the rebranding of its television network last year and has announced the formation of CGTN (China Global Television Network) to rival the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera to spread China’s “voice” and to “showcase China’s role as a builder of world peace.”

Just as Ketchum would be tempted to dismiss the concerns about Putin’s Russia with “a client is a client,” will unemployed or soon-to-be-out-of-work American journalists regard a potential opening at Xinhua or CGTN (e.g., major DC bureau) as “a job is a job”?

In a way that sounds just like the Yuppie Nürnberg Defense — “I was only doing it for the mortgage”  — as preached in the Christopher Buckley book/movie, Thank You For Smoking.

The author of Almost DailyBrett remembers the days at USC journalism school, and the protracted discussions about objectively and Joseph Pulitzer’s mantra of “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.”

Is Xinhua or CGTN, objective?

Are the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, NBC or CBS objective, let alone MSNBC or Fox News? Many journalists employed by these institutions are miffed that  their “objectivity” may be somehow compromised by their employer’s corporate parent (e.g., NBC owned by Comcast).

What happens if your media employer is owned by the largest nation of earth, run by a single party, and established as part of that country’s $10 billion annual investment in soft power?

If objectivity and fairness are part of the personal DNA as a journalist, would she or he be predisposed to resign if the “editor” wanted to censure/delete submitted copy if it ran afoul with China’s policy toward Taiwan, the Dalia Lama, Tibet or some other hot-button issue for the totalitarian state?

Would the same journalist be comfortable that her or his objective copy was universally regarded as self-serving China propaganda by the vast majority of readers and viewers?

Some may be tempted to rationalize accepting a position with Xinhua or CGTN and following their “editorial” dictates as a job is job (e.g., Yuppie Nürnberg Defense).

Other journalists may not have these same flexible morals.

If the choice came down to aiding and abetting Chinese propaganda or maybe finding another job, maybe the journalist should even consider wearing a green apron instead?

“Was that a grande latte or mocha?”











“If he (Trump) took a dump on his desk, you would defend it.” – CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewing Trump supporter, Jeffrey Lord

Do you think Anderson Cooper has reached the point (and beyond) in which he can’t cover Donald Trump objectively and fairly let alone his network, CNN?

According to Harvard University, the answer following empirical research of media coverage by CNN and several other major outlets during the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency is a resounding, “no.”

Let’s pretend Donald Trump did something really good for the country … and didn’t nocturnally crow about it on Twitter?

Before answering this interrogative, let’s first pose a relevant side question: Who do reporters, editors, correspondents respect more than any other living creatures on this planet? The answer is other reporters, editors and correspondents.

Taking this essential and undeniable truth into account, Almost DailyBrett must ask:

Can a reporter — any reporter, editor or correspondent — outside of the friendly confines of Fox News – write or produce a totally objective piece about Trump without triggering the wrath and disdain of his or her precious media colleagues?

Would that journalist be willing to take the risk of enraging the pack mentality, and maybe even jeopardizing a career?

It appears to be seemingly impossible for a CNN or NBC reporter/correspondent in particular to provide positive coverage of Trump as evidenced by new data harvested by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Harvard reported that 93 percent of CNN and NBC’s first 100 days of Trump coverage have been overwhelmingly negative.

Seven percent of CNN and NBC Trump coverage has been positive? It doesn’t seem that high.

Right behind in the race to the bottom is CBS at 91 percent negative coverage, surprisedly beating even the New York Times with 87 percent and Washington Post with 83 percent respectively thumbs-down coverage of The Donald and his administration.

Conservative media outlets tilt to the negative on Trump, but they simply cannot compete with the Clinton News Network (CNN) or the networks of Meet the Depressed or Deface the Nation. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage is 70 percent to the negative, and even Fox News is 54/46 percent to the downside.

MSNBC was not even measured.

The only Trump story that was covered in a positive manner by the newsies was the launching of cruise missiles at poison-gas Syria with 80 percent of the media on the Trump side of the ledger. Guess the remaining 20 percent may be secretly siding with Bashar Assad or more likely … can’t bring themselves to say anything remotely positive about Trump.

As a result, Trump hates the media. The media hates Trump. And Sean Spicer was last seen in the bushes.

The Donald claims he is not being covered fairly compared to his predecessors. Conservative bastion Harvard backs up this contention. Barack Obama’s coverage during the first 100 days was 59 percent positive; George W. Bush’s was 43 percent affirmative; Bill Clinton’s was 40 percent positive … Donald Trump, 20 percent to the positive.

Is the media not-so-secretly rooting for Trump to be impeached, while trying to implicate Mike Pence as well? Consider the instant parallel to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” with James Comey’s firing.

Almost DailyBrett always thought that a massacre required more than one person.

Below the Mendoza Line

The media feasts on Donald Trump’s record 54 percent negative approval rating. According to the same Real Clear Politics average, Trump has a 39.6 percent positive approval rating.

Gallup reported last fall the nation’s approval of the work provided by the media stands at only 32 percent or 8 percent behind Donald Trump.

The same polling firm reported that 72 percent of Americans approved and admired the media’s standing and coverage in 1976, right on the heels of the Watergate busting Pulitzer Prize work of Messrs. Woodward and Bernstein. Since that time, public approval of the media has dropped 40 percent in as many years.

Could it be, the media has become more partisan, more “interpretive” and less objective (i.e., CNN, NBC, CBS, NYT, WAPO)? Do the media feed our nation’s divisiveness? Do they regale in the internecine warfare and bickering, while being above it all?

What’s next: Streaming video of the 21st Century version of a fatal Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton duel with tisk-tisk anti-Second Amendment commentary by Rachel Maddow?

If the media was a stock with a 40 percent sustained decline during four decades – essentially down to the right – a wise investor would have dumped these shares a long time ago. Putting this metaphor aside, does it sound like the American public with only 32 percent support (e.g., 14 percent among Republicans) has rolled their eyes in unison and washed their collective hands of the media?

Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America in 1972 in an era when the media informed the public. Today, the likes of Maddow on MSNBC and Sean Hannity on Fox News essentially affirm philosophies of entrenched political populations segments. Ditto for social media.

Anderson Cooper’s disgusting metaphor about presidential defecation can be dismissed as an unprofessional verbal assault in the heat of battle. CNN’s and NBC’s 93 percent negative coverage of Trump and his administration points directly to the fact the newsies have reached a point they can no longer be fair and objective to the president.

And who are the ultimate losers?









The words, “Public Relations Pros” and “Journalists” would be labeled by many in the Fourth Estate as either an oxymoron or an obscene contradiction of terms.

Emerging from Journalism school back in the desultory late-1970s, the author of Almost DailyBrett would have surely agreed. Walter Cronkite never flacked for anyone. Woodward and Bernstein might be interested in selling books, but they would never stoop to representing a mere politician or corporation. Analytical Thomas Friedman would never risk his reputation for impartiality by serving as anyone’s advocate.


Yes, the perception is that journalists are reporters, editors, correspondents, columnists, anchors, news directors and managing editors. This thinking is oh-so-analog.

Let’s pose this question: Are digital bloggers for TechCrunch, Gizmodo, The Huffington Post, Politico and many other influential weblogs, journalists? Don’t think so?

Think of it this way: They have an obligation to get their facts right. They may not always write, complying with AP Style or using the inverted pyramid – heck many of their posts are feature “thumb suckers” – but they still must have a sense of what is newsworthy and what is not. Why? Because a blog is the most discretionary of all reads. No one requires you to read her or his blog.

Bloggers need to include in their posts the essential facts or the five W’s and the one H… What, When, Who, Where, Why and How…and one more: Who the hell cares? If these questions are not answered quickly, the reader will turn elsewhere. Isn’t that what a traditional analog journalist does?

Is Jon Stewart, a journalist?

Heck no you say? He is a comedian. Right? Or Left? Yes, he is…but in many respects he is a journalist.


His 21-minute public undressing of CNBC’s Jim Cramer was masterful, and it went viral (more than 83,000 page-views). Harvard-trained “Mad Money” Cramer is a virtual encyclopedia of all things, Wall Street. If you are skeptical, just check out his evening “Lightning Round” or read his latest tome, “Get Rich Carefully.”

And yet Stewart nailed him with his careful research, facts and figures to skillfully argue that CNBC was essentially in bed with institutional Wall Street, and was not doing enough to protect the average retail investor, who relies on the market to grow nest eggs for future dreams through IRAs and 401k’s.

Another question immediately comes to mind.

Is the above-average Jane or Jack with a cell-phone camera and an internet connection, a journalist?

Your immediate reaction would be to the negative…and in most instances you’re right…but not in all cases.

Train Station Shooting

A cell phone camera turned BART’s world (Bay Area Rapid Transit) literally upside down when the fatal 2009 early New Year’s morning shooting of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale station went viral. A passenger taking photos through a subway car window “covered” the story, providing many of the five W’s and the one H, prompting the mainstream Bay Area media to follow and putting the BART public relations operation into damage control. The “Who Cares” question was already answered.

Just as the binary code of ones-and-zeroes has forever changed the business models of analog media types (e.g., those still using a later generation of 1439 Gutenberg’s printing press), the definition of who is and who is not a journalist is changing as well.

Rarely does Almost DailyBrett speak ex-cathedra, but it will in this case: The public relations industry grasped digital communication – blogging, microsites, digital handhelds – much faster than the majority of conventional journalists, some of which are still kicking and screaming.

Naturally, traditional journalists and the newly minted digital journalists (e.g., bloggers) are skeptical of public relations pros. Why? Flacks are advocates. They have a point of view. They present the truth and tell the story in the best interest of their respective clients.

This advocacy position puts them in a synergistic relationship with the reporter-editor-analyst crowd, and in many cases these recipients of PR industry information are antagonistic to the provider. In the final analysis and there is no denying this point: They need each other. Reporters need public relations pros because they provide information. In turn, public relations pros need access to their target audiences.

And what about this information? It has to be researched. It has to be accurate. It should always be presented professionally (e.g., AP Style). It has to be newsworthy (or a credible newsworthiness argument has to be advanced). It has to include all the salient facts, including those five W’s and one H. And it must conclusively respond to the skeptical, bordering on cynical, who cares question.

Some have suggested that public relations should be taught in business schools rather than journalism schools. The reason is that the majority of agency and all corporate public relations professionals are working on behalf of business. That’s true.

Here’s where Almost DailyBrett disagrees. Public relations is telling the story on behalf of a newsworthy client. Even though PR pros are advocating, they still must research the story and get it right. They must present this information professionally (e.g., inverted pyramid, AP Style) and it must be newsworthy for news disseminators in order to reach target audiences. That requires the journalism taught in J-Schools.


Even if public relations pros are bypassing or not exclusively using conventional and digital media outlets, and strictly utilizing self-publishing instead, they still need to practice solid journalism and ensure the story is told accurately.

And what did Joseph Pulitzer write on the walls of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch? “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy”?

This sage advice applies to public relations practitioners as well, particularly in our fast-moving digital age.







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