Gratitude For Journalism’s Unsung Class Act

I want to thank Charles Osgood. As host of “CBS Sunday Morning,” Mr. Osgood introduces thought-provoking human interest stories with a quiet reverence and calming demeanor that underscores a respect for both his role and his audience. Throughout his distinguishable career, he hasn’t wavered from being a journalist and program host with class and integrity; words that rarely apply to today’s TV journalists.

He reminds me of broadcast giants of yesteryear such as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Americans trusted and appreciated both Murrow and Cronkite because they gave deference to their audiences as intelligent enough to recognize when information was important without any histrionics. Think of the iconic moment when Walter Cronkite relayed to TV viewing Americans the momentous news of President Kennedy’s assassination. Cronkite removed his eyeglasses, read a bulletin of the facts, very briefly paused as he got choked up, and then closed out this stunning news maintaining his composure as he looked downward at his desk. While news of the president’s assassination would be shocking in any context, it was that brief moment of quiet emotion coming from an esteemed man of unflinching demeanor that augmented the impact. It’s because audiences came to know and rely on Cronkite’s on-air persona as consummately objective and measured, that his moment of vulnerability felt genuinely sincere and was so gripping.

Conversely, most of today’s TV personalities have the dignified presence and emotional subtlety of a televangelist. Today’s hosts and journalists are in hysterics, yelling at viewers in an effort to convey whatever they’re talking about as exceedingly important. Whether or not it’s actually important isn’t important, what counts is viewership.

In essence, substance has been substituted with theatrics all for the sake of ratings. And in the age of the internet and streaming technology, as ratings for information-based TV programming further dwindle and viewership loyalty becomes scarce, news programs try besting each other by mandating increasingly gimmicky, sensory-stimulation tactics such as complicated sets, rapid-fire graphics, and ultra-animated personalities. Virtually every channel is now populated with aggressively loud chatter; wide-eyed hosts spewing superfluous drivel meant as commentary because they’re instructed to be as “attention-grabbing” as possible. Never mind that it feels terribly contrived, it’s what all the others do so it has to be done!

Consequently, most of today’s talking heads accomplish the opposite of a Cronkite, Murrow, or Osgood — they undermine our intelligence. We don’t trust today’s hosts, we’re annoyed by them. Everything is so absurdly loud now, with absurdity being the main term. Unless receiving an actual emergency broadcast signal or report of imminent danger, viewers shouldn’t feel unnerved simply by watching TV news programs.

Unlike his recognition-seeking peers, Osgood hasn’t acquiesced to the mandate of belligerent journalism and isn’t even remotely trying to mimic, let alone best a Bill O’Reilly, Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hannity, or any other menacing shriekers. In a landscape in which noise, not news, is the norm, Osgood’s even delivery and non-sensationalistic approach make him a very conspicuous breath of fresh air.

Yet, his profile has remained low; perhaps to him, happily so. Osgood seems to favor professionalism to pomp. Imaginably, in not following the pack of banshees and rejecting news-as-spectacle, he sleeps better with an unsullied conscience. But more likely and less idealistically, both journalistic standards and viewer expectations have been altered so much by misguided, ratings-seeking news producers and network executives that Osgood’s brand of TV journalism — polite and unpolluted delivery of personal interest stories — won’t formally receive its due recognition. In a landscape where all others flourish as alarmists, a TV personality who maintains a quiet presence will inevitably be overlooked. But, he’s not unnoticed and certainly not unappreciated. Osgood graciously delivers substantive journalism and for that he should be acknowledged and lauded.

So, for preserving your respectability by respecting your audience, I thank you, Charles Osgood. See you on the radio.