The Carnegie Council's lecture series on civility is made possible with generous support from the Dilenschneider Group.
JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I'd like to thank you all for joining us.
Today, as part of our lecture series on civility, we are focusing on civility in the media. It is a discussion that the Carnegie Council, in conjunction with the Dilenschneider Group, is proud to be hosting.
When Mr. Dilenschneider approached us with his idea for this series, there was no hesitation on the part of the Carnegie Council to become a partner in this effort. As we talked about his proposal and the lack of respect, along with acrimony, and incivility, whether in politics, the media, finance, or in our own personal lives, we immediately agreed that the Carnegie Council, as a voice for ethics, was the best forum to explore these issues. We hope that these talks will, through our website, provide a resource for all those interested in this topic.
As we raise the issue of civility in the media, it is indeed a pleasure to welcome the man who is often referred to as CBS News's poet-in-residence, Charles Osgood. Mr. Osgood has been anchor of CBS News Sunday Morning since 1994. He also anchors and writes The Osgood File, his daily new commentary broadcast on the CBS Radio Network.
Is civility dead? If I took a poll of those here today, I believe most of you would probably reply that it certainly seems so, as even before the Tucson shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, there was a consensus that corrosive rhetoric from both the right- and left-wing media was a national problem that had to be addressed. Today it appears that our society rewards inflammatory talk. The more incendiary your remarks, the higher you will register on the outrage meter and the more successful you will be in building an audience.
Yet there was a time when the networks and the press considered the collection and dissemination of unbiased news to be a public trust. If there was uncivil discourse, we rarely heard about it, as the outreach was limited. How times have changed. These days, due to the emergence of cable television, talk radio, and the Internet, all of which are forums for the opinions of individuals who are avowedly and unabashedly partisan, just about everyone and anyone has the means of making their voices heard, and often with little regard for the facts.
Yes, the media is powerful. It can choose to provoke the least stable of our population or it can strengthen democracy and civility. However, at this time, when profit seems to be the driving force, is it possible for the media to be responsible, which means dispersing truthful information, respectful debate, and lawful dissent?
While no period in American history is void of conflict, for democracy to work, people must be willing to accept those whose opinions and views are different from theirs. Still, questions remain. For example, how can we encourage more productive and inclusive dialogue? Can we deliberate in good faith? Can we show respect for our fellow citizens? How do we commit to a common good?
In the end, I want to paraphrase Walter Cronkite and ask, can we return to the glory days of "That's the way it was"?
For insight and thoughtful reflection, please join me in welcoming a very special guest, a broadcaster who himself may very well be the personification of civility, Charles Osgood.
Thank you for joining us.
CHARLES OSGOOD: Thank you, Joanne Myers. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
I have already said thank you, wished you a good evening, and called you ladies and gentlemen. So maybe I should quit while I'm ahead, civility-wise.
I'm honored indeed to be asked to speak to this distinguished audience on the subject of civility in the media. However, I must begin with a disclaimer. I do not hold myself to be an expert on this subject, nor am I holier than thou or more civil than thou or than my colleagues and competitors in radio and television. I sit in judgment on noone here. But I do have some thoughts on the subject, and when Bob Dilenschneider asked me if I would consider doing this, I, first of all, disqualified myself as an expert, but then admitted that I did have a thought or two on the subject. Those few thoughts I'm happy to pass on.
The subject itself may be an oxymoron or, at the very least, a paradox. You may be familiar with the observation that military justice is to justice what military music is to music. As someone whose military career consisted of three years as a member of the United States Army Band, I know about that. I also recognize the inherent paradox of having a guy who does what I do for a living, talk about civility at all.
What we try to create on Sunday mornings is, at best, the illusion of civility. We do try to hold the yelling and screaming down to an absolute minimum on the Sunday Morning set. But those of you who watch the broadcast may have noticed that I have a little IFB [Interrupted Feedback] in my ear. Its purpose is to keep me in touch with the control room to tell me things that they feel I must know and also to be aware of what is going on in the control room.
I can hear what's being said in the control room, and I can assure you, there is a certain amount of yelling and screaming going on. It's inevitable. It just goes with the territory.
We had a cardiac specialist appearing as a guest once. It was not on Sunday Morning, but it was on a morning news broadcast that I was involved with. The president of the United States was traveling, and things were being shifted around, such that this person who was to be a guest was moved back later in the broadcast because the plane was late with the president arriving in Moscow.
When it was over, the producer went up to the doctor and said, "I'm terribly sorry for having done this to you, but you can see the kinds of problems we were having, so we had to put you on at the end of the program."
She said, "All you people are going to die. I have never seen anything like that in my life."
The point that she wanted to make was that strife and stress would take a terrible toll on a person, not only mentally, but as far as circulation and well-being is concerned.
It does go with the territory in television. You can kind of get used to it, but it takes somebody from the outside to notice it and point it out, as this woman did.
Any of you who have ever met Shad Northshield or know him in any way, he was the founding producer of Sunday Morning and a man of tremendous sensitivity—most of the time. Or perhaps you have met Bill Leonard, the president of CBS News at the time, who commissioned Sunday Morning, or its incomparable host for the first 16 years of Sunday Morning, Charles Kuralt, my friend and my mentor.
What they produced may have been inspiring, but what Thomas Edison said about inspiration and perspiration applies here. You do not want to be there when the sausage is made, let's put it that way. But I admired all of them immensely, and I don't want to forget what they taught me over the years about what it is that we're trying to do on Sunday Morning.
Charles was known for his "On the Road" series. He did not like to attend news conferences and be one of a pack of newsmen standing behind a rope and shouting out questions to somebody who was going to be on the evening news that night. He did not like that sort of encounter. He liked to be alone. He liked to spend time with people that he admired, not necessarily people who were making news in the view of somebody else, but people that he wanted to become engaged with and find out more about.
Charles did get some criticism for this. He told me that people had chewed him out for this, saying that it's not appropriate for us news reporters to admire their subjects. We're supposed to investigate them, he was told, and find out what ugly secrets they are trying to hide. He never thought that a good story would be a better one if you kept your fangs bared and your claws unsheathed and were able to succeed in bringing somebody down in your report, leaving them in a pool of blood.
One of the unfortunate legacies of Watergate is that it bred a whole generation of journalists who got into the business because they wanted to demonize; they wanted to bring somebody down; they wanted to tear the masks off the bad guys. There are plenty of bad guys, and I'm glad there are broadcasts, like our 60 Minutes, that tell people what they need to know. We do that, too, on Sunday Morning in our own way. We think it is possible to educate, to inform, and to inspire an audience. I always watch 60 Minutes, and I'm proud of what my colleagues there do. I always learn something from it that I didn't know before, and that is useful and constructive.
I always learn from Sunday Morning, too. It's one of the tremendous things about being in this business, that you get to meet fantastic people that in the ordinary course of events, that if you were doing something else for a living, you would never get to meet. I'm going later this month to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, where they give out the Franklin Institute Awards. I did the emceeing of that ceremony last year, and I got to have lunch with Bill Gates, who was one of the awardees for the work that he has done. I'm doing it again this time.
Because some of the winners are involved in genetic work, I looked back in my own files to see what I knew about the subject of DNA and genetics, and whom I learned it from. I learned it from James Watson at Cold Spring Harbor and from Francis Crick, at the Salk Institute, where he was living at the time. This was on some anniversary—maybe it was the 25th anniversary—of their discovery of the double helix and how DNA works. And there they were, the two of them. I looked with dismay at a much younger me and a much younger Watson and Crick. Francis Crick has died in the meantime.
They talked about what fun it was to be working on this particular problem, and how the only thing that bothered them was that it seemed so simple once it was done. It all seemed perfectly obvious—of course the magic number was 2. They identified the proteins that made up the base pairs that not only told you what was in there, but how it works to make reproduction possible for all living creatures. A fantastic breakthrough, and I got to hear it from those guys themselves. That's a tremendous privilege.
When Richard Salant, longtime president of CBS News, was asked once by a group of children, "What do you like most about being the president of CBS News?" he said, "You probably don't think learning is very enjoyable, but the most enjoyable thing about working at CBS News is that you learn something every day."
However, there are circumstances under which you cannot learn. Basically, if you are involved in conversation with somebody and you do not listen, then you will learn nothing. If what you are doing in an interview is trying to think of the next question that you are going to ask, then you will only know that your subject was finished with his talk when he stops talking, and then you can go ahead with the question that you were thinking of asking. But there's no dialogue there and there's no opportunity for you to learn.
There is an old poem that I heard for the first time from Ted Turner, on his boat the year that he won the America's Cup. You wonder, what does the captain of a racing sailboat in the America's Cup do? He would yell at people. He was not shy about doing that himself. But he said, "Mainly I have to listen."
Did you ever hear the poem:
A wise old bird sat in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke.
The last he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren't we like that wise old bird? When anybody asks me, "What's the secret of doing an interview?" I have to tell them, listen. Don't just listen for the words and their cognitive, literal meanings, but listen for the connotations. You will learn something if you do that, and the next question will come to you growing out of what you have just learned.
If you are hell-bent on trying to find out the flaw in what somebody is saying so that you can pounce and make them yell or cry—if they cry, that's perfect; that's really what you want to do—or to just break down and say, "Oh, you're right. I was wrong all along." That doesn't happen very much, let me tell you.
People in television who put themselves and their opinions front and center—that is, wait for the opportunity to say what you think, not try to find out what the other person thinks—and who believe that what the public wants is not light, but heat; the more heat, the better—the more incivility there is going to be and the less we're all going to learn from watching such a person on television.
Maybe it's generational. I'm 78 now. I think we were better off when politeness counted in politics and just in life in general.
On your report card, when I was a kid, at our Lady of Lourdes grammar school in Baltimore, Maryland, there was one category called "Deportment." Remember that? Nobody grades you on deportment at all anymore. It's a good thing they don't, given what the deportment is. In those days, men tipped their hats to women, removed their hats in an elevator, offered their seats on a bus or a train, held the door, ladies first. Nowadays, some women feel insulted if you hold the door for them. I think that's a shame. Call me old-fashioned.
It seems to me that we use coarser language now. Remember Cole Porter's lyrics—people "who once knew better words now only use four-letter words writing prose...anything goes." That has only gotten worse since Cole Porter was writing his songs.
In speech, in dress, in the way we deal with people, there is not as much refinement as there once was. Maybe it's an effort to be more democratic. For years and years and years, Walter Cronkite and then Dan Rather opened the Evening News by saying, "Good evening." From the day that Katie Couric sat in that chair, the opening greeting was, "Hi." That's what people really say. That's the language that people use these days. It's picking up the language of the street so that the people who are watching will relate to you more; they will identify with you better.
I live across the street from Carnegie Hall, the other Carnegie institution nearby. It's great living over there, because you can look out the window and say, "The concert starts in five minutes. Maybe we should mosey on over there."
People are going to hear great music played by great artists, who are dressed in formal attire, because the occasion seems to call for that, in respect to the great music, and about half the people in the Hall look as if they're dressed to go fishing. That's too bad.
I wear a tie and a jacket on television. I don't always wear a tie and a jacket, but I do when I'm going to Carnegie Hall. I do when I'm going out for the evening and going to be among people. You take pleasure in dressing to fit the occasion. But we're not like that anymore. People who are running for president hardly ever wear a tie. You take the tie off and maybe you hold the jacket over your shoulder. You want to show that you're a man of the people. In television we do much the same thing.
I am not somebody who uses my name a lot. I use it at the beginning of the broadcast and again at the end, an hour and a half later, and nowhere in between. Like my longtime friend and amazing anchorman Walter Cronkite, I don't believe in use of the first-person singular in your reporting.
E.B. White said in The Elements of Style, a rewrite of a book that had been done by his teacher at Cornell, "For good writing, keep yourself in the background." That also applies to telling a good news story, unless what you are trying to do is call attention to yourself.
On the sign for Sunday Morning, it says it's CBS Sunday Morning. It's not Sunday Morning with me. It's just the broadcast. I'm not the first person to do it and I'm not going to be the last. It is a tradition, however, that the next person has to be named Charles. I think it must save the company money somehow on the IDs.
I used to do the Sunday night news, a 15-minute broadcast. Then I would get up and do the radio the next morning. The end piece on the broadcast was something that they called The Osgood File. One of The Osgood File things that we did was a piece on the anniversary of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on Vietnam—terribly important, so important to CBS that we lost Fred Friendly over it. He wanted us to carry those hearings, and the television people said, "No. We have people waiting to see Guiding Light," and whatever else was going to be on in the afternoon. It was commercial time, so it was important that we stick to the program schedule.
My producer, Jim Ganzer, talked with Senator Fulbright, who was by that time retired, living back in Arkansas, but he had come back to Washington for the occasion. He said, "Those were very important hearings, because America learned things that they didn't know. I think the president learned things that he didn't know."
He said the president had called him at one time and said, "Bill, where are you getting this stuff that you're saying in your columns?"
What Fulbright said was, "I didn't make it up. I got it from Walter Lippmann."
Lyndon Johnson said, "Tell you what. Next time you need a dam in Arkansas, you call Walter Lippmann."
He said, "We had wonderful people testifying. We had Charles Osgood down here. He testified at those hearings."
Jim said, "He did?" He couldn't imagine how that could be.
He said, "Oh, yes. He's the man when it comes to disarmament and negotiations and all that kind of thing."
He was talking about Professor Charles E. Osgood, who taught for many years at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and whose specialty was psychosemantics. He was a psychologist. He studied the connotative meaning of words and learned how to measure it. From that, he got into disarmament and something called GRIT that he had introduced, the concept of "gradual reductions in terror" by coming to agreements on things that you could agree on, by using words that could be accepted by both sides.
Then it happened that I went to Champaign-Urbana and he called me. He said he had always wanted to meet me because he figured we must be related. I knew that that wasn't true, because my last name is Wood. Osgood is my middle name. It was my father's middle name and it was my grandfather's middle name. He said, "I think we must be related, because there's only one Osgood family that came over," and he told me all about them. It was fascinating stuff.
One of the Osgoods, Samuel Osgood, was a dear friend of George Washington. When George Washington was the president of the United States and the capital of the United States was New York City—there was no White House—the president lived with his friend Samuel Adams right here in Manhattan. Samuel Adams became the first postmaster general of the United States.
Anyway, the fact was that he was somebody that Senator Fulbright and others could remember years later because he had been in the business of looking at words and trying to use the right words that would not turn somebody off, words where an agreement could be made step by step, until you could achieve some progress, as we did in disarmament with the Soviet Union.
As far as I'm concerned, he was one of the important people that I got to meet. I said, "What made you want to call me?"
He said, "Well, I'm sick and tired of people asking me if I'm the one who writes those silly poems on the radio."
He died about 12 years ago. He was another fellow I was glad I had a chance to meet. I learned something from him.
There was a time when I was in the Army Band that I got to meet a few politicians. The Army Band was known as "Pershing's Own." The band had traveled with Eisenhower during World War II, so it was "Eisenhower's Own" at that time. Eisenhower was president of the United States at the time I'm talking about. When I was in the Army Band, I wrote the lyrics to the trio section of a stately march called "Gallant Men" by John Cacavas. We lived off-post and Cacavas was my roommate. He was an arranger and composer.
Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, Republican of Illinois, would later make a hit recording of that song, reading my lyrics. I'm sure many of you will remember minority leader or majority leader of the Senate, Everett Dirksen (depending on which party was in control), and his opposite number for the Democrats was a fellow by the name of Lyndon Johnson, Democrat of Texas, who would later become president.
Those two men were both politically astute. They disagreed with one another about almost everything. But they did have respect for one another and were able to work with one another to get things done for the people. At the end of almost every day, they would meet and have a drink together.
Can you imagine that today? It's almost unthinkable—congressional leaders of both parties having a drink and coming to know and respect each other, even though they disagreed so much. Isn't it sad that such a thing seems out of the question now? And what a price we pay.
If your objective is to demonize—and maybe television is responsible for this, too—the person who has the sharpest sound bite as an answer in an interview, he'll make it on the air. Somebody who may have a very well-reasoned answer to the question that makes allowances for why people might feel one way and other people might feel another—that won't make it because it takes 18 seconds, and that's way too much time to waste of valuable television time.
You have to avoid what Carl Sandburg called the "proud words." Maybe some of my friends and colleagues in television never read what Carl Sandburg said about those: "Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them back. They wear long, hard boots. They walk off proud. They can't hear a thing."
Those are the thoughts that I have on the subject of civility and its value in the media or in anything else.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: William Verdone.
In your long and distinguished career, can you share with us your most poignant moment, something that just overwhelmed you?
CHARLES OSGOOD: I can tell you what comes to mind when you ask the question. I'm sure there are any number of poignant moments. It was after the disastrous loss of the astronauts, including the New Hampshire teacher, Christa McAuliffe. They sent me up to New Hampshire. I didn't get to talk to any of the big shots, but I did get to talk to the kids that she taught. That was the most poignant thing that I ever covered, without a doubt.
There were other things, obviously. It's terrible talking about assassinations and terrible talking about the consequences of storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes, no matter where they are.
It's unfortunate, but the news does seem to be made up mostly of bad news. It's another reason why it's important to look for those things that are uplifting and that, on a Sunday morning, that a family can watch together. Sometimes the stories are poignant and sad, and other times they are heartwarming.
When it comes to the way you approach a story, I know that I am in their living room, maybe even in their bedroom. They are not necessarily dressed for the occasion, but it is Sunday morning and I'm visiting their home. So I try to hold down the proud words and be soft-spoken. Talking too loud is impolite in almost any situation.
There's a bar downstairs from my apartment. I live on the third floor of the building called The Osborne on 7th Avenue and 57th Street, across the street, as I said, from Carnegie Hall. I get up really early in the morning because I have to go in and prepare radio broadcasts during the week. Some people will emerge from the bar downstairs, and they are talking to one another. I'm assuming that they are standing right next to one another, and I can hear every word they say. Probably it's supercharged because of what they have been imbibing inside the bar.
But Americans tend to be very loud in their talk. We are famous for that in Europe. I am not a linguist by any means, and my French is awful. But we do have a house in France and I spend a lot of time over there. There you learn that a certain amount of dignity, respect, and acknowledgment is required. You can't walk into a store and say, "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to the church," or the library or whatever it is. There will be a pause, and the person will say, "Bonjour, monsieur."
When you come up to the tollbooth on an auto route, every time, one after the other, the toll takers are there and they say, "Bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur." They take your money, they give you the ticket, and then they say, "Au revoir, monsieur." Hello, goodbye, and thank you, and you're gone. But you have to do it.
My idea of politeness is something that has been added to by what I've learned just from casual encounters in France. They can also be impossible, but that's another thing.
JOANNE MYERS: How do you think we can encourage more productive dialogue? Can you teach people to be more civil? What are they doing in journalism schools? Is there deportment?
CHARLES OSGOOD: It was written fairly recently in The New York Times that civility is the last refuge of a scoundrel. That was once written about religion. But it was Paul Krugman who said that. He was talking about the dialogue over the budget.
I'm sorry, but I have to say that I disagree with Mr. Krugman about that, and a lot of other things.
QUESTION: Allen Young.
You pointed out that today we don't use some of the language, like "Good morning," or "Good evening," that once was used and how that is an indication of a lack of civility. But isn't it true that in the past people would use terms about ethnic minorities, about women, about disabled people that we wouldn't conceive of using today? To that extent, wouldn't you say that we perhaps are living in a more civil society today than in the past?
CHARLES OSGOOD: Yes, absolutely. It was a lack of civility that we used those terms and lack of human compassion and relations to demean people that way. To the extent that we don't do that anymore, so much the better.
But it does seem to me that it would be nice if people said "thank you" or if when you said "thank you" to them, they said something. They say, "Right," or "Okay," or something like that now. They never say, "You're welcome." I don't even think they know you are supposed to say something when somebody says thank you.
QUESTION: Vivianne Lake.
Can you tell us about the role of poetry in your life, how it first entered your life and perhaps the role of that in civility?
CHARLES OSGOOD: I was not one of those people that would write occasional poems when somebody retired. Nobody ever asked me to do that, and I didn't have occasion to do it. But I started writing a little verse when a news story would lend itself to that.
There was one story when I was at WCBS, before I moved over to the network, about a train where somebody refused to pay the fare, because the train was always late, the windows were dirty, and the service was terrible. It reminded me of the old poems, the ones at the turn of the century—not this turn of the century, but 100 years before that—when you would have things like "The Face on the Barroom Floor." So I would do poems, sort of like the John Stewart service kind of thing. I enjoyed them.
The first one that I did on WCBS, people laughed. Then one of the bosses came in and said, "That's not the format. We don't want you to do that anymore." But I would sort of sneak one in. I found that the audiences tended to like them—although even there, too, it is possible to offend people with your poetry.
There was a call once that came into the newsroom—this has the additional advantage of being true, as Henry Kissinger used to say—somebody called in and said that if I continued to do poems on the radio, he would kill me. That was a death threat. The desk assistant who took that call told somebody, and thereafter, for a little while, one of the security people would meet my car out in front of the broadcast center and would escort me in. But the pressure kind of came off, and one day they didn't do it. Then they would do it every so often and then they stopped doing it altogether.
My friend Rich Cohen, who is married to Meredith Vieira, was at that time the political director of CBS News. He told me, "If somebody did that, there is not a jury in the world that would convict. It would be justifiable homicide."
So even something that does not mean to be offensive, some people will—and there's no point in doing something that's going to offend anybody, it seems to me. There is always some alternative that you can take. I don't think that's cowardice.
I happen to like George Carlin very much. I laugh very hard at the stuff that he has done. You cannot say in the case of George Carlin that he uses these words because of a poverty of linguistic resources, because he was wonderfully skilled at his explanations of why people say what they say. Nevertheless, I'm not going to do it; I'm not going to use words that are going to bother somebody.
A case came up fairly recently where somebody had talked to one of our correspondents. I remember which correspondent it was, but I don't want to mention his name, nor can I remember what it was that he said. But he wanted to keep it in. The interview had been taped. He thought by now people are going to be used to this. It was some word like "damn" or something like that that is pretty commonly used. It was decided that he couldn't do it, that we would just take the question out that contained this word. It wasn't "damn," but it was something almost as innocuous.
We watch for that on Sunday Morning, because we are who we are and it is their house and it is their Sunday morning, and we try to be soft-spoken.
QUESTION: John Brademas, New York University—
CHARLES OSGOOD: And formerly of the United States Congress, if I recall.
QUESTIONER: And before that, 3rd congressional district of Indiana.
My question is, what do you regard as the greatest headaches, the greatest challenges, the greatest problems in accurately, effectively reporting on the Congress of the United States?
I yield back the balance of my time.
CHARLES OSGOOD: Despite all the talk about transparency, it seems to me that there is damn little of it today, on either side. Not only do they talk about transparency, but they talk about a newer, more considerate approach toward one another. But when it comes right down to it, they're just the same old tough, mean bastards—there, I said it—as before.
It's easy to say you are going to do something about it, but when push comes to shove and there's an election coming up, it's very hard to get people to really change their way of doing things.
It's easy. All you have to do is put a microphone up and some congressman will come along and talk into it.
QUESTION: David Speedie, Carnegie Council.
Speaking, Mr. Osgood, of saying and getting things done, you have been critical in your remarks about the media and the way it depicts and reports. It has been my experience that senior media representatives do criticize their own shop but little happens.
I remember being at one session at the Kennedy School in Harvard where a prominent former newsman who was head of the Institute of Politics at that time addressed a question to a current anchorman and said, "I'd like to open this just by getting right to the heart of things. There were three major international events last week, and you opened last night with the latest non-definitive report on JonBenét Ramsey in Colorado."
The anchorman was obviously disconcerted and stammered his way through an answer.
I guess this is an irregular path towards a civility question. Is it an irreversible path that the media is now 20 minutes of a fairly trivial approach often, and there is a lack of civility, as well as earnest reporting?
CHARLES OSGOOD: What they're trying to do is give the audience what the audience wants. They think they will want to know that, and they can't ignore some of these stories. On Sunday Morning, I do my best to ignore another "Lindsay Lohan arrested again" story. That's not news. Why do we even bother with that?
They say people want to know, so we'll do it. It will only take eight seconds to tell that story.
We are like the congressmen are. A ratings point to us is like a vote is to a congressman. So we try to satisfy people. Usually, when I do a story like that, I make a sort of bad face, as if I didn't really want to tell you this story.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
You have spoken so eloquently about how newspeople can be civil, have been civil, and should be civil. But can you touch on a situation that is actually going on now, where Fox News or Glenn Beck get the most media attention? They are the ones who are most obstreperous, who are the most negative, and most far-out. Again, this is what people want to hear.
CHARLES OSGOOD: Fox thought that about Glenn Beck. His ratings were sensational at the very beginning and then the public got tired of it. So now he's gone.
QUESTIONER: But there are others, and there are so many controversial—
CHARLES OSGOOD: But what I'm saying is that it's not necessarily true, and maybe Fox understands that better than it did at the beginning of Beck's time. If you think some people are going to be offended, then take another look; maybe there's something to be offended about.
He'll show up somewhere else. His career is not absolutely over. But you can almost tell in some of these cases, if the flame burns very hot, very fast, it will go away, because the public will get tired of it. Although in some cases, apparently, they don't.
On the other hand, would I like to see Rush Limbaugh taken off the air? Absolutely not. This is a free country. You get to say what you want to say. If people don't want to listen, they won't listen. If they do listen, then put something else on, too, that you think people ought to respond to. But I don't subscribe to the idea that if somebody just doesn't like it because they feel strongly the other way—that's too bad. That's the price you pay for free speech.
Most of these guys do go too far, and then they burn in their own heat.
QUESTION: Tyler Beebe.
To stretch this question just one more time—let's say we're back in 1956, that we didn't hear from you folks about Lindsay Lohan, just to pose an example. Is that because you didn't know we were really interested at heart in knowing about Lindsay or has the American psyche changed so much in those 50 or 60 years that now we have to know about Lindsay Lohan and don't give a crap about Libya or things that are important?
CHARLES OSGOOD: Lindsay Lohan was yet to be born at that time, but there were people who were behaving badly, and sometimes they got reported on. There were columnists who would—I'm contrasting, say, Walter Winchell and Leonard Lyons. Lyons was extremely popular, and he never said a bad word about anybody. His son Jeffrey has a new book out talking about his father and what it was like to grow up in that particular household. Jeffrey lives in my building.
I had gone down to Cuba on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ernest Hemingway to do a piece from the house where he lived. He lived in a beautiful place there. I ran into Jeffrey coming in the front door. He said, "I really enjoyed that piece that you did about Finca Vigia." He said, "You know, Ernest Hemingway taught me how to shoot."
How many people do you run into that can say that?
Anyway, he writes lovingly about his father and about how he could interview somebody and they would talk to him because they knew that he was not there to do them in. They liked him and he liked them. Nothing the matter with that.
That's celebrity business. People sometimes say, "Edward R. Murrow would turn over in his grave if he saw all these celebrity interviews that we do." What do you think Person to Person was?
I don't know if you saw the George Clooney movie Goodnight and Good Luck, in which Clooney played the part of Fred Friendly, a casting that only Fred Friendly would have approved of. He would have loved that. They had a clip of a real interview. It's Ed Murrow and Liberace. There weren't a whole lot of laughs in that movie, but one laugh was, Ed was smoking a cigarette, surrounded by the smoke, and he says, "Lee, tell me, when do you think you're going to settle down and get married?"
Liberace said, "Well, Ed, as soon as I find the right girl."
QUESTION: Sylvan Barnet, Rotary International.
You mentioned the French. I had the opportunity to manage a newspaper in Paris. It was very civil. I had to shake hands—I wished to shake hands, I like to shake hands—with everybody every single day, from the elevator man to the head of the press room, to every one of the press people.
How did it all come about? It was the French Revolution that did this throughout Europe. Before the French Revolution, people bowed to each other, but they didn't touch each other. After the French Revolution, handshaking became very important. It was a sign of egalité and fraternité. That's where it all really took off as far as the civilized thing of shaking hands.
CHARLES OSGOOD: That's a lovely story. I have heard before that the military salute was nothing more than a knight, usually on horseback—he wanted you to see that he was not approaching you with hostility, and so he would lift the visor of his cap so that you could see that he was coming to you in peace.
Another thing I have heard about handshakes is that it was a way to show that you had no weapon.
So there are reasons. And there's something very nice about starting the day by saying, "I'm glad to you see again today. We're all going to get a day's work done here."
QUESTIONER: You would be embarrassed if you didn't shake hands.
CHARLES OSGOOD: And socially you have to do the kissing, at least twice, sometimes three times.
QUESTION: When Chairman Brademas was on the Hill, among other things, he was the chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, which was one of the most civil things of the Congress. Mr. Osgood, do you think C-SPAN helped or hurt civility on the Hill?
CHARLES OSGOOD: From what I have seen of C-SPAN, it has helped. They do things that you will not find elsewhere that you can learn a lot from. You never know when what you do is going to show up on C-SPAN.
I once talked to the National Press Club, and to my surprise and horror, it was on C-SPAN about a week later.
But the more things there are to see—this is against my own interest, by the way, and the interest of the commercial networks—there sure are a lot of things that you can watch now, not many of them worth a damn. But the more choice, the better.
Since the audience is spread much thinner now, there will never ever again be a Walter Cronkite, whom almost everybody used to watch, because there just can't be. If you have some particular language you would like to watch something in, chances are you can watch it on cable, and chances are, whatever kind of musical taste you have or what obscure sport—you might be able to watch curling—it will be on there somewhere.
JOANNE MYERS: Mr. Dilenschneider.
QUESTION FROM MR. DILENSCHNEIDER: Charlie, thanks for a terrific set of comments.
You mentioned E. B. White, George Carlin, Walter Cronkite, Fred Friendly—really tremendous people.
Who should we be looking to today in modern times to capture what these individuals caught for us?
CHARLES OSGOOD: I would recommend that you tune in on Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. At least we try to make it look as if we're not yelling at each other. We wait until the microphone is closed before we do that.
It's a joy to work on that broadcast, because they have such a great team of people, not only on the air, but behind the scenes. It's terrific to be able to be recognized on the street. I walked over here, because it was such a beautiful day, and there must have been a dozen people that stopped me. They don't say, "You're terrific." They say, "We love your show. We love that broadcast." That's even better.
What I always say when they say that is, "Thank you very much." I'm willing to take all the credit.
JOANNE MYERS: In the interest of civility, let me shake your hand and thank you very much.