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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

At 10th Murrow Forum, Stephanopoulos discusses changing media landscape

2015-04-08-Murrow-Forum-10
George Stephanopoulos, ABC News’ Chief Anchor, speaks during the The 10th Annual Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism: "Who Can You Trust in the 24/7 Multimedia News Cycle?" in Cabot Auditorium on Wednesday, Apr. 8, 2015. (Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily)

ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos discussed a variety of topics pertaining to his two main areas of expertise, journalism and politics, as this year's guest at the Edward R. Murrow Forum on Issues in Journalism.

The forum marked its 10 year anniversary yesterday, April 8, with an interview-style discussion between Stephanopoulos and Jonathan M. Tisch (LA '76), co-chairman of the board of Loews Corporation and vice chair of Tufts' Board of Trustees. 

Stephanopoulos said he first learned about the challenges of politics when working on the turbulent and ultimately unsuccessful Michael Dukakis presidential campaign. "You had to learn to adapt to a different kind of environment," he said.

After leaving the Clinton administration, Stephanopoulos said he realized he wanted to start building a new career, rather than relying on his reputation as a former Clinton senior advisor to carry his career along. He was hired by ABC News, which he said gave him the space to "learn how to be a journalist" on the job.

On a positive note, Stephanopoulos said his experience in politics has allowed him to understand how politicians and government officials think and make decisions. However, he added that it has also made him somewhat less skeptical than other journalists when handling political matters.

"That's what I need to work on," he said, adding that journalists should ideally have a balance of skepticism and understanding.

Stephanopoulos analyzed the changing media landscape, both in conversation with Tisch and in response to audience questions. In an era in which the number of diverse media outlets is rapidly expanding and each outlet can reach an ever-widening audience, it is difficult to predict which stories will take off, he said.

"Everything is mass and everything is niche ... you don't know which interview is going to pop," Stephanopoulos said.

In this new landscape, Stephanopoulos said the large media networks, including ABC, are having to find new ways to get stories from around the world in light of budget cuts and changing consumer interests. For example, he said, ABC now sends young digital journalists to report relatively independently from abroad, rather than maintaining large offices in major foreign cities.

Discussing his recent "This Week" interview with Indiana Governor Mike Pence, which went viral, Stephanopoulos revealed that he was surprised at Pence's response to his question about whether the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act would legalize discrimination against LGBT Americans. 

"I expected a different answer," Stephanopoulos said, noting that Pence had recently decided to appear on the show after turning down requests from "This Week" in the past. But, he added, "That is what we're paid to do -- be respectful and civil, but get an answer."

When Tisch asked Stephanopoulos whether the gridlock characteristic of Washington politics is here to stay, Stephanopoulos said that the polarization and specialization of news sources, which reflects the polarization of America at large, has caused gridlock to solidify.

He argued that today, people can choose to only consume media that reinforces their own views. "No one has to go anywhere where they'll be challenged," he said.

Despite a "Good Morning America" interview with Michelle Bachmann in which Stephanopoulos presented Bachmann with a copy of Barack Obama's birth certificate, he noted that even today, 50 percent of Republican voters still believe Obama was not born in the United States. "It's hard to agree with basic facts in a world where no one has to have their views challenged."

Still, Stephanopoulos stressed that network news still has an important role to play in national media. He elaborated that ABC's morning program, "Good Morning America," still delivers news, while "This Week" focuses more on context and analysis. In addition, Stephanopoulos said networks still have a responsibility to cover and explain breaking news.

In addition, Stephanopoulos dismissed the concept of "print journalism" as a separate media arena, noting that journalism today takes place across many platforms, even for major print newspapers and even within the same story.

"Print journalism doesn't exist anymore -- it's just journalism," he said.

Throughout the evening, Stephanopoulos reiterated that the continual challenge for journalism, no matter what the landscape, is getting people interested in stories. While answering an audience member's question about the impact of comedy news shows such as "The Daily Show," Stephanopoulos praised these shows for getting viewers interested in what's happening in the world.

"[They've] done a great job at getting an audience that otherwise wouldn't be paying attention," he said. He added, however, that it is best to seek news from multiple sources in order to draw conclusions from multiple perspectives.

Likewise, Stephanopoulos said Twitter can be a great way to spark someone's curiosity in a story, and that the internet allows that person to learn more about that story than would have been possible before the internet was widely availability.

Stephanopoulos, the son of a Greek Orthodox priest, said he first became interested in politics when he interned with his local member of Congress in college. Later in the forum, when an audience member asked Stephanopoulos' opinion on whether internships in D.C. should be paid, he explained that he would not have been able to take the internship if it had not been paid.

When Stephanopoulos said he is starting to believe that major corporations and government institutions should pay their interns, the audience burst into applause. He said the increase in "income polarization" that occurs when less well-off candidates cannot afford to take low-paying entry level positions needs to be combatted.

Stephanopoulos briefly discussed the 2016 election cycle, including Hillary Clinton's bid for the Democratic nomination, which he expects she will announce in the next few days. He said it will be important for her to demonstrate not just her experience, but her goals as a potential president. "She needs to convince people ... that she has a vision for the future," he said.

Finally, when asked whom, alive or deceased, he would like to interview, Stephanopoulos chose Pope Francis. "He has had such a profound impact on the world in a short period of time," he said.