Seigenthaler Symposium explores press credibility

Friday, April 7, 2006

The need for anonymous sources and the struggle of journalism to encourage
public debate emerged as two themes in Middle Tennessee State University’s
Seigenthaler Symposium April 4-6 in Murfreesboro.

Former Vice President Al Gore and Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein have
lightlighted this year’s symposium, “Self-Inflicted Wounds: Journalism’s Lost
Credibility.” The series is named for John Seigenthaler, First Amendment Center
founder, for whom MTSU’s Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment
Studies was named.

Speaking on April 4, Gore zeroed in on television as the dominant medium and
a culprit in the lack of the “conversation” needed in a democracy.

“It is difficult to overstate the extent to which modern pervasive electronic
advertising has reshaped our public forum,” he said, as reported by Sarah
Crotzer, reporter for MTSU’s student newspaper, Sidelines. “Instead of
the easy and free access individuals had to participate freely and fully … by
means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible
for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation
today.”

Bernstein, introducing an April 5 showing of the film “All the President’s
Men,” defended the judicious use of confidential sources as vital to the kind of
reporting he and Bob Woodward did for The Washington Post in investigating the
Nixon administration in the 1970s.

As quoted by Sidelines reporter Michaela Jackson, Bernstein said, “When the
system of government has failed to respond to the excesses of those in power …
it has been the press … that has changed government, changed the way people
think.”

Anonymous sources, Bernstein said, enable journalists to peer into the
workings of government. But they should not be used uncritically, he cautioned.
“Look at their motivation and consider it,” toward reaching the goal of
reporting “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

Full coverage of the symposium, including podcasts of speeches, is
available from Sidelines
Online.

 

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