THE PURPOSE OF CELEBRITY TV JOURNALISM

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How about if we merge a little Charlie Rose, a little Oprah, and a little me all together. And we serve that up as an hour? Wouldn’t you watch that?

Megyn Kelly

When you mix fiction and news, you diminish the distinction between truth and fiction, and you wear down the audience’s own discriminating power to judge.

Bill Moyers

Megyn Kelly leaving Fox News where she was earning $15 million a year to join NBC News for a similar salary was recently a front page story in the New York Times. The test referenced in the headline – Megyn Kelly’s Jump to NBC From Fox News Will Test Her, and the Networks – is essentially twofold: 1) Will she integrate easily into a less partisan, more mainstream news organization?  2) Will she be worth the considerable investment involved?

Left ambiguous is whether NBC News, after spending so much on Megyn Kelly, will be in a stronger position to help citizens understand the critical issues facing the country associated with the new Trump administration, starting with the ramifications of immediately repealing the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, with or without a plan to replace it.

Sixty years ago, the public interest obligations of commercial broadcast journalism were taken much more seriously than they are today. News was not expected to make a profit, and news anchors were not paid outlandish salaries. When local TV news and the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes started making lots of money in the early 1970s, the role of celebrity TV journalists became associated more with making money than informing the public.

Citizens with critical media literacy skills are aware of this history and need to be mobilized to hold both commercial broadcast journalism and social media accountable in the new era of post-truth politics. Not an easy task, but something that Bernie Sanders is now calling for.