Legal analyst focuses on state of media during Town Hall South talk in Upper St. Clair

November 3, 2016

If you remember watching the news as presented by Walter Cronkite and “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” you may want to ask the same question as Rikki Klieman:“Why is it that the ‘revered’ media has turned into what it is now?“Klieman, now a contributor and legal analyst for CBS News, provided some answers during her talk Tuesday morning as part of the Town Hall South lecture series.“What’s happened over the years is that we’ve really morphed,” she told the capacity crowd in the Upper St. Clair High School theater, from the days of news coming primarily from newspapers, the radio and just three TV networks to a multitude of cable channels that carry news 24/7.And beyond that is the exponential growth of new media.“It’s a very different world,” Klieman observed.A former trial lawyer, she entered the world of media when Steven Brill, head of the relatively new Court TV - it since has been rebranded as truTV - asked her to provide analysis for a few days during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. She ended up staying with the network for 15 years.“You had to give both sides of the issue,” she said about Brill’s policy. “You could give no opinion under any circumstances.“Of course, anyone who has taken Journalism 101, even at a state school, has learned that lesson. Fewer people seem to be adhering to it, though.As an example, Klieman cited the front page of The New York Times - yes, she still reads newspapers and even clips articles - as a place that should be reserved for objective news, but she often sees pieces that, in her opinion, clearly belong on the Opinion page.On television, the blurring of the lines has become even more pronounced, as certain personalities seek to further their careers by constantly expounding on their particular points of view.“What they want is to keep the pot stirred,” Klieman explained, “so that they can keep their jobs.“As a result, she said, networks such as Fox News and MSNBC tend to tailor their coverage to various parts of the political spectrum, and viewers thus have a choice to make that didn’t exist in the Huntley-Brinkley-Cronkite days:“Do we want to confirm our beliefs or watch the beliefs that are opposite to us, so that we can see what people are thinking?“And taking the “stirring the pot” concept one step further:“What happens when you become so enamored of your position as an anchor or celebrity that you have some need to inject yourself into the story?“Klieman cited the example of Brian Williams, former managing editor of “NBC Nightly News,” who for years told the story of his helicopter being forced down while he was covering the Iraq War. The incident became a centerpiece for Williams’ ostensible news coverage, until he had to admit that it never actually happened.The media’s treatment of other media members also was subject to Klieman’s scrutiny, such as the flap surrounding the coverage of Donald Trump by Fox News’ Megyn Kelly during an early presidential debate.“The story became not of any substance at the debate. Why should we talk about substance?” Klieman said. “The story became Megyn Kelly vs. Donald Trump.“Speaking of the Republican candidate, she confided that she knows both him and Hillary Clinton.“They’re both very pleasant to me. I like them in person.“But she wouldn’t say which is getting her vote and doubted that anyone in the audience could tell from her talk.Being such an advocate of objectivity, that’s the way she wanted it.