Sunday, April 08, 2007

Politics And The Art Of Professional Journalism
By Aimee La Fountain

John and Elizabeth Edwards announced in late March that despite the reoccurrence of Elizabeth Edwards’s cancer, Edwards would continue his presidential candidacy. This decision naturally garnered critiques from people in all areas of the political spectrum. It is the right of the American people to be informed on the candidates running for president, and an interview with the couple was the perfect forum for the American people to get such information. CBS’s ‘60 Minutes’ undertook this responsibility and recruited their network superstar Katie Couric to conduct the interview. However, the interview served as another in a series of weak attempts at journalism for CBS.

The first major error of this interview was the questions that were asked. The role of journalism is to ask questions that generate answers to enlighten audiences. Many of Couric’s questions, however, seemed used purely for their sensational value. For example, Couric asked Edwards “Weren’t you terrified you might lose your wife?” Such a question is unprofessional because everyone knows the answer before Edwards opens his mouth. Edwards’s response, which naturally began with “Of course”, further proves that. Furthermore, the question wasn’t insightful. Couric is bringing up a painful topic that serves no real benefit to audience members.

The second error was the way in which the questions were formulated. Couric began many of her questions with the s word, a word ever-dreaded by journalism instructors: some, such as, “some say” or “some people.” This is a cheap technique used as a means for Couric to ask any questions she pleases under the guise that it is what people are asking. Therefore, by using these expressions, Couric detracts from the validity of her questions. A key value in journalism is the use of sources and attribution to support what is being stated. If “some people” are indeed asking these questions, then Couric should employ the name of some such critic. After all, if there isn’t a demand for a particular question to be asked then there is no real point in asking it.

Third, CBS was unfair in choosing Katie Couric to conduct this interview. Journalism is supposed to be presented without bias and Couric, having publicly lost a husband to cancer, (even if she herself is unbiased), is clearly a biased figure on the issue. For example, it appears improper for Couric ask the question Edwards for staying on the campaign trail when she herself continued hosting The Today Show during her husband’s illness. The focus of the interview should have been on Edwardses, and using someone like Couric makes that focus nearly impossible to maintain.

The concept of an interview with the Edwardses after such a controversial announcement is both timely and appropriate. The fashion in which the interview was conducted, however, was not.

No comments: