Campus News Blog: Gwen Ifill to Speak at Annual SMU Sammons Lecture

September 29, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Elisabeth Brubaker

Thursday night SMU students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community will be treated to a lecture in media ethics by Gwen Ifill for the annual Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture in Media Ethics.

Ifill is the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week and senior correspondent for the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. She moderated the 2008 Vice Presidential debate. She is the best-selling author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”

Tickets are free but are required. You may obtain tickets by calling the Owen Arts Center box office at 214.768.ARTS.

The lecture begins at 8 p.m. Thursday in Caruth Auditorium of the Owen Arts Center on SMU’s campus.

Politics blog: Robinson Recalls “Campaign of My Lifetime”

November 14, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Britt Vogel

“I don’t think this was our finest hour, but I don’t think we did a bad job. I thought we were fair and ethical,” Eugene Robinson said, in response to how he thought the media coverage of this past election measured up to expectations for improvement from coverage of the last presidential campaign.

Robinson came to SMU as part of the Rosine Smith Sammons Lecture series in Media Ethics Thursday. As associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post, he reported on what he referred to as the “campaign of my lifetime.”

“This campaign was an amazing laboratory for media coverage and media ethics,” Robinson said.

He didn’t cite balanced coverage as the media’s main problem, as it was in the 2004 campaign. Instead Robinson believed that the media had a focus problem, the media couldn’t stick to one issue. Coverage went from the war in Iraq one night to “lipstick on a pig” the next morning, according to Robinson.

The biggest problem this campaign was distractibility, the media’s inability to focus on the real issues. Robinson said that horse race coverage outnumbered real coverage 2 to 1. When this happens the media is no longer doing their public service of keeping the people informed.

Robinson had the most trouble with remaining objective in his reporting throughout the campaign. It made him question for the first time whether or not he was being journalistically ethical.

“I confess it was very difficult not to be personally affected,” he said.

“What do you do when emotion is part of a story?”

The moment Sen. Barack Obama became President-elect was an emotional moment for many in the media.

“I thought this moment was emotional, but it was truth, and that’s our [the media’s] job,” he said.

Upon reflection at the end of his speech, Robinson questioned whether this campaign was in fact the best laboratory for media ethics.

“Maybe there was just too much going on.”

Either way, the election was called by NBC at 10 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, and when the camera came to Robinson, he doesn’t remember all that he said. He panicked. But he does remember saying this:

“When I tell my two sons ‘You can grow up to be anything,’ I’m telling them the truth.”

Politics blog: A Refreshing Perspective

November 14, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Lisa Rodriguez

“I am lucky to have covered the presidential campaign of my lifetime,” said Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post, as he opened his lecture at SMU.

Robinson, who came to speak about media ethics during this presidential campaign, left no question about his personal bias during his speech. Was that a problem? To give a lecture about bias in cable news, but keep your personal biases in your lecture? Not for me.

Robinson spoke about the bias in cable news, but he said that the toughest issue for him while covering the campaign was keeping his own emotional bias out of his coverage. Someone sitting next to me during the lecture was clearly irritated at his obvious emotional ties to Obama, but I think this illustrated his point exactly.

On the topic of cable news bias, Robinson presented a fresh perspective. Although he agrees that cable channels like CNN, MSNBC, and FOX are noticeably biased, he thinks it may not be a problem. He said maybe the highest and best use of cable news is not the highest and best use of network news or newspapers. They present a new medium, a colorful array of different opinions, mixed with hard news coverage.

The real problem during this election was not bias, he said, but the “Undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder of the media.” News coverage this year was constantly distracted, it went from a story about issues, to celebrity news, to what each campaign said that day. This made the media unable to fulfill a promise to the public to stick with the truly important stories.

This year The Washington Post published over a thousand horserace stories, compared to only around 600 issues stories. This was the real problem—not the bias to a candidate, according to Robinson.

I thought Robinson’s lecture was very worthwhile. It was nice to hear a lecture that didn’t present the ideas I’ve heard over and over again. I’m tired of being told to save the media from its evil bias. One of the biggest criticisms of the media by journalists themselves is the bias in broadcast news.

I agree with Robinson’s argument—maybe this is the new medium for cable news reporting. The mix of commentary and hard news is obviously working. Ratings for the cable news stations are high. As long as they aren’t the single source of the news for someone, I believe a person can still get the news fairly.

I also appreciated Robinson’s honesty. He didn’t hide his support for Obama, so it was easy for the audience to see what a challenge it was for him to cover the campaign fairly.

Journalists are bombarded with political news so it’s difficult to remain neutral, and I think that this is an issue that many reporters struggle with in their coverage. Overall, the lecture was informative, fresh, and easy to listen to. Too many times, I have left journalism lectures burdened by the immense job placed on my shoulders as “the future of journalism” to save the media. It was refreshing to leave feeling good about a new direction that’s being taken, without sacrificing journalistic integrity.