“Yawn”, KXAN TV (NBC) anchor Robert Hadlock posted as this “Status” on Facebook at 8:23 p.m. Was it mere coincidence that his post was in the beginning few moments of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, carried on NBC and all the other major networks? Was his status “an editorial comment”, I asked, but he didn’t respond. Others online with us offered alternative programming such as the UT vs. Texas Tech basketball game or PBS, if Mr. Hadlock was bored with the President’s speech, a speech that was hardly boring.
Asked about his “status” post last night again today, Hadlock brushed it aside. “I was sleepy last night. It’s interesting how people interpret a simple comment posted on Facebook.” Misinterpretations can happen, particularly in things like email or in a running dialogue on Facebook.
Journalists are people. All people have personal political positions. Such is the same for journalists. At the same time, however, journalists are held to a higher standard, at least by their peers. Journalists should appear apolitical in print, on the air, and even in person. Novice reporters as well as politicians are taught early on that one should assume that everything is “on the record” and every microphone is hot. One cannot have a professional lapse. An anchor or reporter can also show slant with a voiced inflection, a raised eyebrow, or by adlibbing away from the newscast script. It happens. It behooves a journalist to be circumspect.
Now comes social media, and many journalists have Facebook pages to promote programming, tease the next news stories, or as Mr. Hadlock does most of the time, praise the Texas Longhorns. Co-anchor Leslie Rhode foreshadows stories from time to time. KVUE TV (ABC) Meteorologist Mark Murray often uses Facebook for a synopsis of future weather forecasts or events in the “Live Music Capital of the World”. Michelle Valles of KEYE TV (CBS) is very active on Facebook, especially since the start of her 4 O’Clock show with Jason Wheeler. Ms. Valles has nearly 3,800 “friends”.
Other main anchors eschew social media, possibly preferring to keep their thoughts to themselves. They may be private people who do not want to put themselves “out there”. That’s totally understandable.
Hadlock, however, has 607 Facebook friends. He has been a fixture in Austin and Central Texas TV since 1987 when the UT grad came back to Austin to be part of the team at KVUE TV. He moved to the anchor chair at KXAN TV in 1990. He’s covered a little bit of everything. Of course, elections and politics are always when a TV station shows its best efforts, particularly here in the state capital.
Presidential addresses always should be items of high interest to journalists, whatever their private political stripe. What will the President propose? How will the Congress react? Will somebody shout, “Liar!” Will the President lose it in front of God and everybody? Particularly in this strange year with so many issues on the national agenda, a State of the Union address should rank high in interest—jobs, two wars, bank bail-outs, the deficit, etc.
President Obama is fully capable of soaring oratory, and he used those talents at times in the State of the Union. In this address, however, he also took a different tact trying to overcome what he called a “deficit of trust” which has driven a wedge between the political parties and the people of the country. The President also called out the media for facilitating this sort of polarization. In the coming news cycles we’ll here the pundits’ and loyal opposition’s take on the speech.
One would expect Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Keith Olbermann, or Rachel Maddow to possibly take their shots from the left or the right. Olbermann has begun labeling portions of his program with a graphic saying “Comment”. That’s okay. Commentary has long been part of the media’s role in the political process. Long before those mentioned above, Eric Sevareid regularly delivered commentary during the CBS evening news. Even Walter Cronkite commented. Cronkite’s most controversial commentary was of course when he came out in opposition to continuing the war in Vietnam. Cronkite’s comments were not a “yawner” to the sitting President at the time.
While some things are constant, communications is changing constantly. Social media is at the hub of much of the change. One might wonder what Sevareid would have thought of Facebook. Would he have written a blog? I’m pretty sure that he would have had a massive following on Twitter.
One week ago, January 19, 2010 at 8:25 p.m. Robert Hadlock posted another “Status” on Facebook saying simply, “God Bless America”—hardly an over-the-top political statement. President Obama said the same sentence last night. January 19, 2010 was the day of the Massachusetts special election to select a successor to Senator Edward Kennedy. Democrat Martha Coakley lost to Republican Scott Brown ending the Democrats commanding 60 votes in the Senate. The outcome of the election was clear by 8:25 p.m. The online discussion had to do with the difficulty of passing health insurance reform without the Democrat’s so-called “super majority”.
Former television reporter and author James Moore read into Robert Hadlock’s blessing a political message. “Careful there, Mr. Anchor,” Moore wrote on Facebook. “The thing about FB is [that] it reveals the politics of someone in a public venue….which ain’t a big deal unless you do the news on the (sic) tee vee.”
“I’m bemused that some see ‘God Bless America’ as a political statement, but hey, it’s only Facebook!” Hadlock responded.
© Jim McNabb, 2010
I’ve known Robert since 1987, and we worked together close to 20 years. I’m one of the 137 FB “friends” that we have in common. If one is going to write about the news media with a critical eye, one cannot allow personal feelings to stand in the way of a story or while writing tempt one to shrink back from difficult analysis. JMc