June 21, 2013

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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Tom Brokaw
Tom Brokaw (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Not long after blasting the “expansion of the blogosphere” in an MSNBC appearance, Tom Brokaw is blasting, well, MSNBC. And the giddy-up news culture that it represents, that is.

In an appearance on the Daily Show, Brokaw chatted up John Oliver about the perils of our fast-paced contemporary news system. The question for Brokaw: How does speed sacrifice thought? Brokaw:

When I was the White House correspondent during Watergate, for example — that was the greatest constitutional crisis in this country’s history and it was a terribly demanding journalistic assignment. So I’d spend all day long trying to figure out what was going on behind the scenes at the White House, how Congress and the country was reacting and would go on the Nightly News that night. And at 7:00 (p.m.) I’d start working the phones again for the next morning’s appearance on the Today show. Now, if I were there, they would hit a switch and at 7:00 (p.m.), [MSNBC's] Chris Matthews would be saying to me, “But don’t you think he’s guilty? Don’t you think we ought to just [inaudible] him up to the gallows right now?” There wouldn’t be that opportunity for the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, there is a lot of very good work that is being done that just doesn’t get the attention…

Refutations and agreements:

• Thanks to the Internet and its partner, social media, “very good work” gets massive attention these days. In fact, the efficiency of Web referrals ensure that the “very good work” has a greater shot at mass circulation than did all the “very good work” produced in Brokaw’s heyday.

• “But don’t you think he’s guilty?”: Yes, that’s exactly what Matthews would have said in an airing of “Hardball: Watergate Special Edition.”

• “There wouldn’t be that opportunity for the work that needs to be done.” Perhaps today’s news system would indeed have hamstrung Brokaw. But fret not, titan of network news: The TPMs and the BuzzFeeds and the Politicos and their brethren work around the clock, doing the “work that needs to be done.” And they update their stories long before the “Today” show airs.

• Watergate was a demanding journalistic assignment.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.