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Writer relates media to politics

| Thursday, April 3, 2014

Hedrick Smith, former New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was the featured speaker at the 2014 Red Smith Lecture in Journalism at the auditorium of the Hesburgh Center for International Studies on Wednesday night.
Smith, a member of the team responsible for the publication of the Pentagon Papers, promoted his book, “Who Stole the American Dream?” and spoke about the problems plaguing American politics and the American news media.
“I wish I could be really positive and upbeat about both the country and about journalism,” Smith said. “But the truth of the matter is that this is a troubling time for both the country and journalism.”
Smith said there is extreme distrust toward both the government and news media as a result of economic strife and American unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
“We know that public attitudes toward our major institutions–including the press–are poor,” Smith said. “Confidence in our political system as a whole is at one of its lowest points in the last 40 years.
“One of the polls I read recently said that 63 percent of the people responding to that poll said that America was in decline. We also, unfortunately, know that the public has a low opinion of us in the media as well. There was a Gallup poll in 2012 where … 60 percent had little or no confidence in the press to report the news fully, fairly and accurately.”
Smith said experts in the field of journalism attribute the negative opinion of the press to a decline in the quality of news media.
“If you go inside the news media itself, the assessment is not good by the top editors,” Smith said. “Their conclusion — this is by news executives all across the country — is that news standards in the industry have declined and factual errors in reporting are on the rise.”
Smith said this decline in quality, including increasing bias and increasing pressure to integrate marketability in reporting, have grim political implications.
A successful democracy requires a good educational system,” Smith said. “It requires good quality journalism to keep them informed, and then it requires an effective political system so the people get the kind of policies they want. Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, most Americans said they believed that Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq, was linked to Al Qaeda, so most Americans were misinformed.
“When it came to the economic bailout … many Americans believed it did not help [the economy]. Very few economists, business leaders and very few governmental leaders on both sides would share that opinion, so the public’s opinion is at odds with what most experts would believe.”
Smith said that, in order to the media’s image, journalism needs deeper coverage, more specialized journalists in law and the sciences and most of all a deeper drive to uncover underlying causes behind events.
“Recovering history on the fly, we’re not going to get it right, you know that,” Smith said. “But that does not excuse us from trying to get the best obtainable version of the truth.
“Now, [it] is not dots. We’ve got to connect the dots and say, ‘What does it mean? What is it telling us about the way America is working and how well is it working, for who?’”

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