Join me for a moment on an ego trip. There is a purpose.
During my three decades as an investigative reporter in various venues around the country, I collected more than twenty major national broadcast journalism prizes. Not included in the count are state and regional awards, many of them long forgotten.
Beyond the sheer quantity of my accolades is the remarkable array of topics I covered. My four Peabody medallions were for exposés of organized crime, political corruption, the ministgry of television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and revelations about a state insurance commissioner, who with his five cohorts, went to prison in the aftermath of my disclosures. The insurance and televangelism documentaries earned two Dupont Columbia citations—the so-called Pulitzer Prizs of broadcasting journalism. Exposing payoffs by a bank to a state official won the Radio Television International Award for Investigative Reporting, now called the Edward R. Murrow award. I could go on and on. But you get the idea.
My reason for this flight of braggadocio is not so much to praise myself, but to eulogize the employers and the craft that gave me an opportunity to do the kind of the television stories that now rest in broadcast journalism’s graveyard. I’m not demeaning my own abilities. I must have had a talent for scandal-mongering. However, I could never have won all the prizes without the support of employers. In Baton Rouge, Miami, Boston and for awhile at CNN, I was given free rein to uncover stories I deemed important.
My bosses major benefit besides the awards was a bit of journalistic pride—at a high cost. Investigative reporting is an expensive business for news organizations in terms of legal fees and other attendant costs. I’ve been reminded of the risk in recent months while teaching LSU continuing education classes for students 50 years old and up. When video of my long ago exposés—classes are kind of like a John Camp film festival—I realize my good fortune in being given the time and resources to do the the kind of investigations that produced results. Several resulted in lawsuits. The good news is I never lost.
The bad news is television muckraking is pretty much history. There are a few exceptions. Sixty Minutes and Frontline come to mind. For the most part, though, television tries to fake investigative reporting—especially twenty four hour cable news organizations. I’m particularly disappointed with CNN, where I spent ten years as Senior Correspondent in a forty member investigative unit, another piece of broadcasting journalism history. I don’t expect a return to its heyday with the hiring of new network president, Jeff Zucker.
Zucker’s career, mainly with NBC, has been in entertainment and “news lite” programming. He now faces the proposition of winning back viewers who fled from CNN and its endless supply of talking heads, many of whom are so repetitive I feel like a clairvoyant because of my ability to predict exactly what they will say. For the most part, pundits have replaced reporters on CNN.
Maybe I should watch Fox “News” more often now that Joe Muto, a former Fox producer, has revealed to Huffington Post that the bizarre stuff on the network is actually a gigantic farce and shouldn’t be taken seriously.
“The people at Fox are not stupid,” he said. “They know when they have Dick Morris or one of these other pundits on predicting a landslide victory for Romney, the people behind the scenes know that it’s all bluster. They know that this is sort of an entertainment. They know that a lot of these people are just hucksters … we producers know that this is all a farce. The reason we don’t step in and give a reality check to our audience is because that’s terrible for ratings.”
Muto also talked about Fox News hosts Megyn Kelly, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, and predicted that the network will sand down some of its hard-right edges in coming years.
Unfortunately, most viewers don’t understand Fox’s satire—me included. If, in fact, its all a big joke, the network is too subtle for me. I guess those of us taking the network’s Republican propaganda, distortions and outright lies seriously are like the Chinese folks who believed a recent article in the The Onion describing the leader of North Korea as the sexiest man alive.
As a regular reader of The Onion, I knew the Kim Jong-un story was a joke. But Fox “News?” Sean Hannity? Bill O’Reilly? Regular guest Donald Trump and all the other clowns on the network? I don’t a sense of humor that is capable of grasping their ?satirical? rants. So Muto’s explanation may have merit, given the quanity of comic material the network provides Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Maybe that’s the future of CNN. Jeff Zucker can rescue the network from the ratings toilet by hiring the cast of Saturday Night Live to anchor and offer commentary.
My memoir, Odyssey of a Derelict Gunslinger: A Saga of Exposing TV Preachers, Corrupt Politicians, Right-Wing Lunatics…and Me is available at amazon.com, soft-cover or Kindle and at independent bookstores like the Cottonwood in Baton Rouge. It offers $19.99 worth of laughs and much more. The book is an account of my illustrious (I choose the adjectives) investigative reporting career.