About Our Guest
Wyatt Andrews received his BA in Government and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 1974. He joined CBS News in 1981. From 1984 to ’86, Mr. Andrews was CBS News Tokyo Asia Correspondent. From 1986 to ’88, he was CBS News Moscow Correspondent and Bureau Chief covering Gorbachev’s Perestroika, Chernobyl and the summits in Moscow, Reykjavik and Washington. Between 1988 and ’89, Mr. Andrews became CBS News State Department Correspondent. His assignments included the Afghanistan Accords, NATO and Middle East negotiation, among many other things. From 1989 to ’91, he worked as CBS News White House Correspondent during the Bush Administration covering the First Gulf War and the Soviet Summit Meetings at Malta and Helsinki. Between 2003 and ’09 as CBS News Supreme Court Correspondent, Andrews covered such diverse areas as detainee rights, campaign finance, war powers and affirmative action. His noteworthy stint as CBS News National Correspondent spanned the period from April ’91 to the present. The breadth of his journalistic experience compasses, among many other things, politics, energy, foreign affairs, healthcare and veteran’s affairs. Mr. Andrews was principal reporter for the CBS Evening News Eye on America. During the 2008 presidential campaign Wyatt Andrews served as primary correspondent for the CBS reality segment on the Evening News which took as its focus political claims and distortion. Wyatt Andrews has won national Emmy awards for the Gandhi Assassination in 1984, the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 and the Washington Sniper Case in 2002. In 2014 he garnered the DuPont Columbia Silver Baton Award for his coverage of Sandy Hook. Wyatt Andrews has been named Professor of Practice in the UVA Department of Media Studies where he teaches courses in multimedia reporting and the news media.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are honored to welcome as our guest veteran journalist and former CBS Correspondent Wyatt Andrews to explore the evolving role of journalism and media in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. Welcome, Mr. Andrews.
Wyatt Andrews: Jan, thanks for having me.
Jan Paynter: Wyatt Andrews received his BA in Government and Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia in 1974. He joined CBS News in 1981. From 1984 to ’86, Mr. Andrews was CBS News Tokyo Asia Correspondent. From 1986 to ’88, he was CBS News Moscow Correspondent and Bureau Chief covering Gorbachev’s Perestroika, Chernobyl and the summits in Moscow, Reykjavik and Washington. Between 1988 and ’89, Mr. Andrews became CBS News State Department Correspondent. His assignments included the Afghanistan Accords, NATO and Middle East negotiation, among many other things. From 1989 to ’91, he worked as CBS News White House Correspondent during the Bush Administration covering the First Gulf War and the Soviet Summit Meetings at Malta and Helsinki. Between 2003 and ’09 as CBS News Supreme Court Correspondent, Andrews covered such diverse areas as detainee rights, campaign finance, war powers and affirmative action. His noteworthy stint as CBS News National Correspondent spanned the period from April ’91 to the present. The breadth of his journalistic experience compasses, among many other things, politics, energy, foreign affairs, healthcare and veteran’s affairs. Mr. Andrews was principal reporter for the CBS Evening News Eye on America. During the 2008 presidential campaign Wyatt Andrews served as primary correspondent for the CBS reality segment on the Evening News which took as its focus political claims and distortion. Wyatt Andrews has won national Emmy awards for the Gandhi Assassination in 1984, the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 and the Washington Sniper Case in 2002. In 2014 he garnered the DuPont Columbia Silver Baton Award for his coverage of Sandy Hook. Wyatt Andrews has been named Professor of Practice in the UVA Department of Media Studies where he teaches courses in multimedia reporting and the news media. Welcome again, Mr. Andrews.
Wyatt Andrews: Thank you.
Jan Paynter: Before we begin our discussion of the evolving role of the fourth estate viewed against the election that we just processed, tell us if you would a little about what brought you to your commitment in a career in journalism.
Wyatt Andrews: When I was…when I left high school for UVA, this is in 1970, I wanted to be an attorney and so I thought that as an extracurricular activity here that I would cover radio station based news at the student station that exists to this day, WUVA. And so I started at the ground level at WUVA thinking that if I covered college radio news it would help me know the community better, it might get me into a court room maybe to cover a trial or cover student council, city council. It would be great training, I thought at the time, to become an attorney in that it would…I would be more…I’d make myself more educated in terms of how things really worked. But by my fourth year I realized that I had spent so much time at the radio station and then gotten into station management, I was station president, I had been station news director, I realized I didn’t want to be an attorney, I wanted to be a news reporter and so then I went after that with zeal, you might describe it as. I just found this liberating moment of ambition and focus and wound up incredibly getting my first job at Channel 6 in Richmond, for which I was completely unqualified, by the way I should say. Nothing about…as hard as I worked in college radio, I was not qualified to become the courts reporter. I did courts and trials in Richmond and my learning curve was off the charts. I’m sure I came close to being fired several times but thank God I wasn’t. But I… Journalism—and I teach this to my students—journalism is not a job, it is a calling. If you’re not truly called to it, it’s like being a teacher, it’s like being a nurse or a doctor—one of these professions where after 60 and 70 hour weeks you still don’t think it’s hard. And I tell my students, ‘If you…’, in my reporting class now, ‘If everything that it takes to do a news report, all the hours that it takes, all the time that you spend being committed to facts and being fair to everybody that you possibly can, if you sit down at your typewriter or your…typewriter…your computer screen and it feels like drudgery, you should run screaming from the room because you’ll hate it. It’s not for you. But if you sit down and you…and you’ve done a good job, you have pursued the truth, you’ve written it well, you’ve ethically derived your report, there’s this magic I always found in television journalism where the sum of a great story was always more than its parts, if that makes sense, and there’s a magic to it.’ And I said, ‘My..’ I tell my students to this day, ‘I want for you what I had and that was when the pieces came together there was this joy that made you forget how much work it was. But if you’re not called to it, you’re not going to be any good at it.’
Jan Paynter: Yeah, I think passion is the key in any career.
Wyatt Andrews: And when I say that, that’s not just me. That’s every professional at the local and national level that I ever worked with, print and broadcast and now internet. That’s one thing all journalists in the field have in common. They don’t care about the hours because it’s a great thing to do with your life.
Jan Paynter: It’s a very noble profession and it should be viewed as such. Let’s discuss the role you envision for the UVA Department of Media Studies playing…in terms of inspiring students, preparing them for the career that you just outlined.
Wyatt Andrews: Well, my role in the Media Studies Department is I am the Professor of Practice—the guy who’s come in from the profession. I’m not… I only have a bachelor’s degree. I have never been a deep scholar unless you want to count the times where I’d be on some sort of three part investigative piece. There I think you’re kind of…you’re into real time scholarship when you’re a journalist. But I’m not a scholar on the level of the great professors at UVA. I was fortunate to come in at the rank of full professor but it is Professor of Practice. Here’s someone that we take from the outside who had a certain amount of accomplishments and achievements in their career and it’s a limited time. It’s a limited time contract when you’re a Professor of Practice at UVA. I completely understand that. But the idea is to expose those students who are interested in this new age of reporting to the demands and the rigors of what it would be like to join the profession. So that’s what we’re all about. I have 28 reporting students now and it is a multimedia class which means that in this new age young journalists need to know how to do everything. They need to know how to develop sources, they need to know how to write the stories, they need to know the basics of ethics but they also need to use the camera and be able to edit, use the editing equipment. Soup to nuts. Hopefully they don’t have to do all that in their future profession. Hopefully they can pick one or the other. They can be…they can go to the production side of news or they can go to the editorial side of news but we feel like in our department that our job is to train them or expose them at least to all three and let them sort it out when they get out in the real world. And Jan, this is one class where without apology we are all about whether they can leave the university and get a job in the profession. We are…we’re aiming…we’re starting with the basics but we’re aiming very high. There is no reason that as smart and as driven as most students are at UVA that they can’t… It’s not easy. This is not… I warn these students, this is not an easy class but there’s no reason that the best of them can’t leave here and join the profession if properly motivated and that’s… My job is to lay out the real world demands of what journalism takes and see how they react. And I have to tell you, about…probably about I would guess a third of my class is just about qualified to work in the business right now. That’s how good they are.
Jan Paynter: Oh, that’s impressive. What role ought mentoring to play in shaping and molding a good journalist, in your view?
Wyatt Andrews: Oh, mentoring is vital because it falls into the category of things that students don’t know and not of their own fault. They don’t know because no one’s been in a position to tell them. I have seen, since my time as a one semester adjunct here in ’06 and when I took this Professor of Practice job, exactly 10 years later in the winter of ’16, there has been, in my view, a revolutionary difference made in terms of say 10 years ago in ’06. When I showed up here as a national correspondent for the CBS Evening News, the students in ’06 knew what that was because they had had some occasion either with their parents or even on their own to occasionally watch a broadcast newscast. In 2016, God bless them, I don’t think any students really knew what it meant to have been a…for me to have been a CBS news correspondent for 34 years. That’s not their fault. It just…the revolution has gone so quickly that students today, it’s not just that they don’t know about broadcast news, they don’t know where cable news comes from. They think that news shows up on their phone magically. And they’ve never had a…they’ve never had occasion to consider because this is a gap in the college curriculum. It’s a gap in the high school curriculum, it’s a gap in the college curriculum that no one is telling them that news is actually a reporter on the telephone engaging people in the field, reading original documents, going…actually going to trials. That number of reporters is actually very, very small and the number of news outlets around the world that actually engage in on-the-ground, retail reporting diminishes every year because people aren’t paying for the content. And everything else that we see, that we… Every other aspect of news consumption is based on probably six or seven agencies around the world who employ the most original reporters. So even on the broadcast networks—ABC, CBS and NBC and especially the cable networks, CNN and Fox in particular—those…some of that is reporters going out in the field but most of what you hear on broadcast or cable news is derived from wire services or taken from the New York Times or Washington Post. So much news in this huge ecosystem is actually sourced from six or seven agencies. But to go back, so the idea…so that’s a long winded way of getting back to your mentoring. Students have to be…there’s a lot of one-on-one counseling or advice sessions that I give to the students which is, ‘Here’s how you navigate this. Here’s how hard it is. Here’s how… No, no, no. You can’t just email a source. You need to go speak to the source. You need…journalists need eye-to-eye contact.’ And without that level of advice with no one here to tell them, there would be a major gap in their education and in their ability to go get a job.
Jan Paynter: Well, and also later on we’ll talk about this, you have to go out into the field because otherwise you lose your touch, your empathy, your contact with source and we see, as we’ll discuss later, the result in an election for instance. Let’s turn to the election that we’ve just…we’re all processing. In your view, Wyatt, where did reporting on the election go wrong, where did it go right, because it strikes me that this election, apart from other obvious political impacts and considerations, provided a very interesting laboratory as to the way journalism and media in general should and should not function.
Wyatt Andrews: There are two big failures by the media. Mostly the broadcast media and online media. And it has to do with… A lot of people say that the media missed Donald Trump’s electorate. Let’s set that aside for one second. I think what the media missed was policy, especially the broadcast media. I think that the major takeaway is not that the media missed the power of Trump’s electorate ‘cause I think a lot of that reporting was there. And also, Jan, let’s remember, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by, as we tape this, around a million votes. So what exactly did the media miss in terms of picking the winner of the election? But I don’t intend that to be a big digression at this point. We can come back to that. The big thing the media did disgracefully, and again I confine that to the broadcast media, is they didn’t cover policy. Everything was the horse race.
Jan Paynter: I agree.
Wyatt Andrews: Everything was about the conflict. Everything was about Donald Trump’s insults. And you know what, I’m not sure that we can fault the media for focusing on Donald Trump’s insults. He was…that was news. People cover the news. It was actually respectful of the electorate for the news media to keep on giving Donald Trump that coverage. Look, did they make money off of it? Yeah. But if Donald Trump is at 10 or 15 percent of the polls and you don’t cover the next outrageous thing that he says, then that’s censorship. But that… So I don’t think that the fault of the media was covering every Donald Trump insult. If you’re the news director or you’re the executive producer, at what point do you not do that without being accused of censorship. But that doesn’t explain why there was almost no policy. The latest stats that I just saw was that on ABC and NBC going until two weeks before the election they had only done eight minutes on the national news related to policy. In other words, almost nothing on healthcare, infrastructure, federal deficits, military affairs. It was all horse race and that part is…that part was a disgrace on the part of the media and steps need to be… That’s where the serious introspection needs to take place right now.
Jan Paynter: Well, one of the stats, going along with what you’re talking about, that I saw was very interesting was that only 11 percent of the coverage looked at policy positions, leadership skills and professional history and a lot of people also posit that the focus on Trump obviously led to an overshadowing of them by the Republican race. Do you think that’s fair?
Wyatt Andrews: Right. That is fair. If you go back to the primary where, what was there, 16 or 17 presidential candidates and Trump begins this insult campaign, he sucked all of the air out of the room. You know what, honestly, we’re too close to it. I don’t know what you do differently. I do know that the head of CNN has said if he had to do it over again he wouldn’t have aired Trump as live as much as he did but the implications of having a guy go on Twitter dozens at the time…dozens of times to insult people, journalists, his opponents, anybody in the…members of the Republican party that he was supposed to be running…members of his own party that he was trying to lead, he’s insulting them as well. The…that had the impact of sucking not all the air out of the oxygen, it dried up the money. It dried up the exposure and the money for all the other Republican contenders and here’s what I mean. So you’ve seen these statistics of how if Donald Trump had to pay for all that air time, especially on cable news, the value of that by the middle of the primary was around $1.8 billion, if you took every second of that and he had to buy that in an ad. By the time… Take Marco Rubio for example. There’s a perfect example that before the Florida primary the…where Rubio is contesting his own state where he arguably should have been in the lead, Rubio was having to raise money to be on the air with advertising to compete with the free press that Trump was getting through his insult campaign. That made a difference, it made a difference in the voice that the Republican competitors got to have on our airwaves compared to Donald Trump.
Jan Paynter: The Pointer Institute asserts that prediction journalism trumped, if you will, informational journalism. Do you think that’s fair?
Wyatt Andrews: Well, prediction journalism is another phrase for conflict, bias or horse race journalism—who’s ahead…
Jan Paynter: Well, and polling.
Wyatt Andrews: Yeah, and polling. Can you win? How do you compete? Why are you behind? You’re four points behind, how do you catch up? Now some of that is important. To the extent that polls are scientific and reflect the public…reflect the public’s acceptance or rejection of a leader’s or a candidate’s political positions, some polling coverage is perfectly…is acceptable and desirable. But in this case, it was…you could see whole stories on all of the national broadcasts including the one that I used to work for, CBS Evening News, and go days and days without a single policy recommendation—tax policy, healthcare, would Donald Trump add to the deficit in an anti-deficit party? It was almost zero. That has to be fixed.
Jan Paynter: Oh, I agree. Are journalists, as it’s been posited, too disconnected—we talked a little bit about this before the program—too disconnected from the heartland of the country and if so, do we need to widen the journalistic tent for a more diverse pool of reporters both in terms of their geographic, ethnic and economic backgrounds?
Wyatt Andrews: A very, very interesting question. There is no doubt that most reporters… There’s no doubt that most reporters work for and come from either universities or agencies… Let me back up on that, Jan. We do have an issue there. Most of the mainstream press is based in coastal towns. Just think of the east coast. The main centers are New York, Washington and Atlanta and then out on the west coast pretty much Los Angeles. That’s where most of the…and Chicago. That’s where most of the major news agencies are based and where we get most of our original news reporting. And a very high percentage of those reporters are educated in elite universities and a very high percentage of those reporters make north of $100,000 a year so that the mainstream media is largely composed of very well paid, very highly educated folks who, if they started and we all did, myself included, if you started as a hand to mouth reporter three decades ago, by the time you hit the national big time you have forgotten those days. That is an issue and we used to discuss it all the time. Are we paying enough attention to what folks call flyover country? I think it’s too glib to say none of those reporters paid any attention to the forgotten Americans in the middle of the country who seem to have uniformly risen up in especially low income White America to register this massive protest vote that happened on Donald Trump’s behalf.
Jan Paynter: Oh, there was a lot of reporting by reporters in that area, there was.
Wyatt Andrews: There was a lot of very brief exposition, question and answer. Are you for Donald Trump and you’d hear, ‘Yeah, because I think he’s going to make America great again.’ A lot of it was not as in depth as it needed to be and a lot of it was… One of the problems is that reporters are there in the centers, in the intellectual centers, for example Washington certainly and certainly New York, where it is dogma, it’s a given that free trade—just take free trade—is great because a) there’s no reversing it anyway, b) it provides tremendous benefits for our low income people to buy cheaper goods when it’s made cheaper overseas if we were to force it to come home. If we were to force all those jobs to come home, then consumer products that we bought every day would be a lot higher. So there was… And here’s the problem. For reporters, it is perfectly fine to listen to all that expert global economic advice and understand intellectually that there is no reversal on globalism and there is no real reversal on global trade, possible or desirable. That’s different from whether you then picked up, got out of your desk in New York or Washington and traveled to the middle of Illinois, traveled to the middle of Kansas and asked people their thoughts on whether global trade was a fabulous idea. That part I think the media could have and should have done more. But again, I’d like to make one more point. I think the newspapers did a much better job both on policy and in understanding Trump’s electorate. So I think when we…way too many people are out there saying, ‘The media did this terrible job.’ We have to remember, there is no one media. It’s not a monolith anymore and I think on balance the newspapers did a fairly good job. I felt well-informed about the Trump electorate but I read a lot of newspapers. But I think if your universe was looking at news online or looking at cable or broadcast news, you might have had no idea.
Jan Paynter: Oh, I agree. There’s one site that I go to often and that’s The English Guardian because I think they do really good reporting and there was a very moving piece that they had early on about a couple in the poorest county in West Virginia and they talked about why they were voting for Trump in a way that made eminent sense. The woman had had a great factory job, she was now collecting cans by the side of the road. Her husband was out of work and they had voted twice for Obama.
Wyatt Andrews: Yes.
Jan Paynter: So it gave you a very good feel for that. That’s one site that I particularly commend. We have to stop for now and I thank you so much for doing this today and I look forward to you joining us for part two.
Wyatt Andrews: Thank you.
Jan Paynter: Thank you at home for joining our conversation. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of prior Politics Matters programs that you may watch in their entirety anytime. We will be posting extended versions of interviews online on our site as well and will continue to add more content. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you with any ideas, questions and concerns for future programs. We encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are on PBS-WVPT on the second and last Sunday of every month at 11:30 am. Thank you again and until next we meet, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.