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Reliable Sources

Millennium 2000: 100 Years of Journalism

Aired January 1, 2000 - 6:30 p.m. ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome to a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES on this new year's weekend. I'm Howard Kurtz along with Bernard Kalb.

Now that the 20th century has slipped into history, we take this opportunity to look back at 100 years of journalism.


KURTZ (voice-over): The last turn of the century marked the peak of the newspaper boom, 2,600 papers across the country. By 1900, one million copies sold each day in New York alone, papers like Joseph Pulitzer's "World" or William Randolph Hearst's "Journal" for just a penny each. As a flood of immigrants sailed onto America's shores, they found most of the newspapers written in simple language to accommodate their broken English.

Rural families got their news from smaller papers delivered to town once a week or from magazines arriving by railroad. Investigative journalism flourished in publications like "McClure's." During W.W.I, President Woodrow Wilson urged Congress to give him the power under the Espionage Act to censor the press. Newspapers cried foul. After its own spirited debate, Congress turned down the president's wish.

In 1920, the first radio news broadcast, KDKA in Pittsburgh, announced that Warren Harding had defeated James Cox for the presidency. No recording exists of that momentous day. By 1925, only three million homes had radios. Forty million Americans got their news by going to the movies. In the '20s and '30s, news magazines flourished. Radios kept selling right through the Great Depression, 50 million by the 1930s.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first president to embrace the power of mass communication.


FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.


KURTZ: TV made its debut at the 1939 World's Fair. But with the nation soon busy at war, it would be more than a decade before it took hold. When Douglas Edwards introduced the first national evening television news program on CBS in 1948 fewer than a million homes had a television set.

By the 1950s the cold war and other developing stories provided compelling images for the new medium. Edward R. Murrow, a famous voice on radio, took to the television airwaves. Harvest of Shame followed the plight of poor migrant workers. By the early 1960s, a majority of Americans said they found TV to be a more reliable news source than newspapers. The decade provided the nation with unforgettable images.


DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice



NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT: It's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.


KURTZ: And the images from Vietnam, the first living room war, made a tremendous impact on the nation's collective consciousness. Walter Cronkite, dubbed the most trusted man in America, said only negotiation could get the U.S. out of Vietnam. President Johnson responded, "If we have lost Walter, we have lost the country."

In 1971 the publication of "The Pentagon Papers" by the "New York Times" and later the "Washington Post" caused a sensation. The top secret documents showed evidence the U.S. government had deliberately misled the public about Vietnam. President Nixon fought to prevent the papers' release to no avail. The Supreme Court ruled the newspapers had a right to publish.

Public cynicism grew as the Watergate scandal unfolded. The reporting of these two journalists eventually forced the resignation of a president.

In the '70s and '80s, satellite capability ushered in a new era of television. The world was getting a little bit smaller. CNN's debut in 1980 brought on the 24 hour news cycle that would dominate the decade.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear.





NASA MISSION CONTROL: Liftoff of the 25th space shuttle mission and it has cleared the tower. Rock and roll, Challenger.


KURTZ: Broadcast networks were gobbled up by corporate parents and cable TV began to eat into the number of their viewers. Cable's rise coincided with the decline of newspaper readership, leaving few cities with more than one major paper. Two other all news channels debuted in the '90s, the decade of the big story as national soap opera.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.



CLINTON: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate.


KURTZ: And the age of the rowdy talk shows.


MATT DRUDGE, "DRUDGE REPORT": You were a Clinton contributor. You didn't tell your readers. You're at it again, Steve.


KURTZ: By the late '90s, the news cycle moved into overdrive with hundreds of media sites just a click away on the Web. The late 20th century has been dubbed the information age and the explosion of technology has given Americans an almost infinite number of choices for news. The question is which information medium will still be standing at the end of the 21st century.


KURTZ: Joining us now Jodie Allen, senior writer for "U.S. News & World Report" and Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune." Welcome.

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Thank you. KURTZ: You know, in the early 1900s, the Citizen Kane area, you had a lot of papers -- I was making a list in New York -- "The World," "Sun," "Herald Tribune," "Telegram," "Mirror," "News," "Times," "Post," and I'm sure I've forgotten a couple. But many of these were openly partisan papers swinging away on behalf of Democrats or Republicans. Today's newspapers, Jodie Allen, are big, supposedly objective, but more homogenous and some would say boring. Have we lost something?

JODIE ALLEN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Oh, I don't think they're boring. I think that today's newspapers, I will say, are infinitely better than any one of those newspapers that you mentioned there. You go back and look at those things, I mean the word yellow journalism, although it came out of a comic strip, came to speak about a whole generation of papers that were untrustworthy, that were in the pocket of the publisher, in which you couldn't tell the difference between an advertisement and news and a good part of the news was made up or created as in perhaps in the case of the Spanish-American War, to serve the interests of the publisher.

KURTZ: But aren't newspapers today little more cautious, Clarence?

PAGE: Well, that's always the question, you know. The worst thing we can do is to be boring. We also don't want to be offensive. Things have changed. Your little synopsis of the century was excellent, there, by the way. It's very true, the beginning of the century we were an immigration country, mostly immigrants coming from Europe. We are once again an immigration country but they're coming from all over the world.

We're also a country that recognizes diversity in different kind of ways. When I came to Chicago, by the way, I came out of college 30 years ago, Howard, and when I got to Chicago we had four daily newspapers and that was fun to be a reporter. We've got two dailies in town and the real competition is not between the "Chicago Tribune" and the "Chicago Sun-Times" but between us and the suburban papers.

KURTZ: Exactly.

PAGE: And that's true all over the country. It's true of your newspaper and all over the country. Now the suburban papers are now competing with the old urban papers because America is changing once again. Now we're a more suburban country.

BERNARD KALB, CO-HOST: In answer to a question that is on all your minds, this is not a prayer shawl. I'm simply getting sartorially ready for the 21st century.

Now, having said that, in answer to the question about news, all of the above. I'm in favor of objectivity. I think this is an inevitable journey that the media has been on. Partisanship at the turn of the century was a luxury that society could then afford. As you indicated, there were immigrants, different ethnic groups and newspapers were appealing to special niches of our broad spectrumed society. Now with the, to a major degree, the homogenization of Americans there is this requirement for objectivity. Having said that, there is still plenty of partnership to go around, particularly on election day, and particularly in the editorials, and the question about the shrinking newspaper circulation, that has been consumed, the audience, by the fact that you have all these television stations.

KURTZ: I would hate to return to the days of partisan papers or the days when the staffs were all white, mostly male, a far cry from today. But I do think that newspapers have gotten very cautious in their new monopoly status in most cities.

Let's flash forward now to W.W.II and the coverage there. It was an era, it seems to me, Clarence, of great story tellers, Edward R. Murrow on the rooftops of London, Ernie Pyle with the troops. But it was also a very patriotic kind of coverage. I mean reporters wore uniforms and they submitted to official censorship. I'm wondering if that was unique to the enormity of that war and the culture of the '40s. You certainly didn't see that in the coverage in Kuwait or Kosovo.

PAGE: Well, look back home, another classic story of how American journalists and photographers didn't put pictures of Roosevelt in his wheelchair, of how the one young photographer started to take a picture and the older one knocked the camera out of his hands.

KURTZ: Inconceivable today.

PAGE: That's quite -- inconceivable today, exactly, you know, and the whole culture has changed and our role now is more adversarial and the public expects us to be so.

KALB: But I must add one other thing. There was a clear cut enemy in W.W.II. You had Adolph the bad and there was no doubt in anyone's mind about who were the good and who were the evil. But to pick up the point about journalistic suppression, you remember the famous scene where General Patton slapped a G.I. in the face?

PAGE: Right.

KALB: The local press, that is to say the war correspondents with him did not touch that story. It was only months later when a columnist here in Washington first reported that story that that entered. There's no question that the press during W.W.II had red, white and blue jingoism and they felt it was the appropriate thing given the nature of the enemy.

PAGE: Look who got in trouble about Bill, Bill Malden, the cartoonist, because he portrayed the life of the average G.I. with all the mud and the blood and the dreariness and Patton didn't like that. He thought that was bad for morale. In fact, it was very good for morale.

ALLEN: This clearly is an issue that's still on the table and we have now a very, very uneasy relationship between the military and the newspapers and some very bad things that the papers have done recently, like in the Kosovo war publicizing the fact of, the target that was about to be hit and hadn't been hit yet, telling when, basically when the troop ships were sailing, saying when planes took off from Aviano. No wonder the military get angry.

On the other hand, we had the efforts by the military both in the Gulf War and all the successive wars to unduly censor what was going on, to manipulate the press. We haven't worked this out and it's something that remains for the next century.

KALB: Can I add a phrase of mine, as I say? The Pentagon won two wars in the Persian Gulf. It defeated Iraq and it defeated the press.

KURTZ: Well, clearly the press was on board as part of the great war effort against Nazi Germany and Japan. But at the same time the incident you suggested about the Patton slapping incident suggests to me that reporters unfortunately sometimes were also protecting military leaders against possible embarrassment.

PAGE: I want to take you all back to W.W.I and a Michigan senator who said the first casualty of war is the truth. And that's still the case. We're in kind of a, kind of a Wily Coyote versus the road runner race with the military information machine and I was an information officer during the Vietnam War when, you know, the military lost control of their message. By the time the Gulf War came along they had regained control and figured out how to sell their own message.

KURTZ: Well, hold on because we still have 50 years to go. When we come back, coverage of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, how journalists made a difference.



Clarence, in the coverage of the civil rights movement of the '60s, most journalists I think clearly believed that George Wallace and the segregationists were wrong, Martin Luther King and the marchers were right. Was this, looking back with the benefit of foresight, a form of advocacy journalism?

PAGE: Well, it was also, though, a reflection of a national consensus. The thing about, no pun intended, the issue was more black and white back then. But it was black and white in a way that enabled a majority of Americans of all colors to say segregation is wrong and the media helped to accelerate the process.

Howard, I was first politicized when I was, what, 10 years old and Little Rock happened and I saw it unfold on my black and white TV in Ohio and the whole country saw it unfold and they saw President Eisenhower spend his political capital to federalize the National Guard troops, etc. This was a great national drama that was taking place and the public really voted. And we've got to say something for the courage that a lot of journalists from the north who went down and covered that at a risk of life and limb and a lot of courageous southern white editors who said this is not right and we've got to do something to change this system.

KURTZ: Jodie?

ALLEN: I think that one of the things that's interesting, and it almost goes back to the military thing, Martin Luther King presciently saw that the pictures were worth a thousand words in showing this and that segregation could not persist in the face of illumination when the spotlights were on it. And yet in some of the discussions and wrap-ups it's very clear that a conscious effort was made to use the media in this sense to manipulate but for a very good cause.

This can be true in war time, too. Propaganda is an important weapon. So it's this very fine line. In this case, I agree with Clarence, the press has played a noble role.

KURTZ: A lot harder to write about the complexities of race these days than in the '60s.

PAGE: A lot harder.

KURTZ: Bernie, I have a question for you because in the same decade of the '60s that we had the civil rights upheaval we also had Vietnam and because of the focus of the press on how badly the war was going, at least as the war wore on, I'm wondering if some might say that that, too, was advocacy journalism that helped turn the country against the Vietnam War.

KALB: I don't think it was advocacy because that suggests a predetermined point of view. I think in the case of Vietnam the reporters were reporting the facts and the facts were stacked against the reality that was being presented at the five o'clock follies by the Pentagon. Advocacy presupposes that you go to the typewriter or the computer with a fixed point of view. That was not the case in Vietnam.

I remind you that in the early years of the war in Vietnam, say the early '60s, the resounding thump in the press corps was pro-war, that is to say pro the U.S. position in the war.

KURTZ: Certainly. Right.

KALB: It subsequently changed when it was recognized that the U.S. had blundered on a variety of fronts. It didn't understand Vietnamese nationalism. It forgot that the biggest, China's biggest enemy was the Soviet Union, not the United States. And we were in the midst of what was then being called now a civil war. We were in there. So it wasn't advocacy point of view in advance.

KURTZ: It was also a television war and a living room war and that's what made it different, for example, than the Korean conflict.

PAGE: That's right. And, in fact, you know, it's interesting, our evening news was only 15 minutes long -- you're too young to remember this, Howie -- but it was 15 minutes long until the fall of '63 when Huntley Brinkley and the others went to a half hour just in time for JFK to be assassinated and become the first 24 hour TV news story.

And then the Vietnam War heated up after that, along with civil rights, etc., and TV became the real conveyor of the narrative here.

KURTZ: OK, we'll hold it there and just ahead we'll talk about the influence of, what else, the Internet, and where the media are heading in the 21st century. That's next.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

Jodie, television clearly changed the world but the Internet seems to be remaking it once again and even more significant, I think, than the lightning speed or you can buy books and toys online is the fact that anyone, anyone with a modem, that is, can start a Web site and this has kind of shifted power from the wealthy few to the many. Is that a good thing?

ALLEN: It's good and it's bad. I mean it produces that competition that you had in the early '20s and then some. I mean there is now much more competition. On the other hand, of course, you get very, very bad and dangerous Web sites. But you...

KURTZ: And are people smart enough to filter that out, sort it out and tell the difference?

ALLEN: I think people are getting much smarter. I don't think, you know, I think at the beginning everything sort of was taken on faith. But I think now as we see this huge convergence, which is what I see the future becoming, where it all comes together on this little flat screen that you'll carry around -- it'll look like newsprint except you can adjust the size if your eyes are getting tired. And you'll be able to get a little bit of video if you want it. You can read a longer story. You can click for the history. It'll be a very, very rich medium.


ALLEN: And it'll need to be policed.

KURTZ: But there are no gate keepers as there are in any newspaper or network or magazine, which in some ways is liberating but it also can be dangerous.

PAGE: Well, Howard, don't forget, every newspaper is on the Web now, too, you see?

KURTZ: Right.

PAGE: All the Web does...

KURTZ: But before newspapers...

PAGE: All the Web does...

KURTZ: ... can put content on the Web, some editor has to say well this looks kosher to me.

PAGE: Absolutely. Absolutely. But, you know, I think James Madison must be smiling somewhere at what's happening right now because the Web just accelerates the process once again. You know, you don't have to go to a ditto machine to put our your Net pamphlet. You can go onto the Web. But it's the same deal, you know, people shop caveat emptor, buyer must beware. You know, they go to the "Washington Post" Web page or the "Chicago Tribune's" Web page...

KURTZ: Or the "McGeorge" Web page.

PAGE: Or "McGeorge's" Web page or whoever and ideas compete against each other on kind of an equal playing field and I kind of like that. I think the American people are intelligent enough to make some smart decisions here.

KALB: Just look at the velocity with which we have covered the last 90 or 100 years.

PAGE: That's because we're good journalists, right?

KALB: And I know every one of these predictions is valid and there is a tidal wave of predictions about the impact of Internet. But personally, I'm dying to get into a time capsule and stick around about a hundred years to come out in, say, 2100 and see whether any, there's any validity of the predictions. That we are on the threshold of something unbelievable goes without question. We are on that precipice of an extraordinary adventure. The destination is highly uncertain but by god, are we lucky to be at the tip of this cut.

KURTZ: Well, I'm a huge fan of the Web and I love the cornucopia of voices and viewpoints and information just in pictures and sound and opinion that you can get. But I'm not sure I'd throw in my lot with those who would say, those who are already writing the obituaries of ink on paper newspapers. Yes, we're all on the Web. But I think -- am I wrong -- will there still be a role for the thing that plops on your doorstep?

PAGE: Paper, just paper.

ALLEN: Oh, I think that we'll be...


ALLEN: I think that one thing we should bear in mind is that when the telegraph came on the, in the mid-19th century when it came on the scene it was widely predicted that that was the death of newspapers. Of course instead it was just a new rebirth for them.

KURTZ: The same thing for radio and television. It (unintelligible) newspaper. ALLEN: Exactly.

KALB: Of course when TV came on it was the death of the movies.

PAGE: That's right.

KALB: Movies are doing better than ever.

PAGE: That's right.

KALB: The Internet may be a great boon for newspaper and magazine circulation.

ALLEN: Right.

PAGE: I think so but I'm wondering about the future of paper, though. You know, I mean...

ALLEN: Yeah.

PAGE: I mean for us, we all love to get a cup of coffee or tea and fold out that Sunday morning newspaper. But, you know, this new generation coming up doesn't have that habit. They don't grow up with newspapers and the comics the way we did. They're growing up with the Web and they can read five or six different newspapers in the morning on the Web. And I think, you know, I'd love to see our children and grandchildren get together here a hundred years from now and roll back a tape of this show and say how benighted we were or how right we were.

KURTZ: Well, if we were wrong it's all on tape.

PAGE: There you go.

KURTZ: Jodie Allen, Clarence Page, Bernard Kalb, thanks very much for helping us cover the last hundred years.

Well, that's it for this special new year's edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy new year and happy new century.


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