This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Frank Titus moderates.
John Hohenberg, Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, discusses the press coverage the United Nations General Assembly.
Panelist include Jerry Miller, Joy Feltcher, Charles Tuck, Charles Rosema.
Is press coverage of UN meeting biased? Hohenberg believes the coverage has been very good up to this point.
Khrushchev antics at the UN.
Difficulties in covering the UN meetings. Not the fault of the press.
The role of television in the coverage of the UN General Assembly.
Relationship among reporters and "black sheet" reporters.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 72057
Municipal archives id: LT9063
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Has the American press become a sounding board or communist propaganda what is the role of the American Free Press in reporting today is Khrushchev winning the battle of the headlines the visiting U.N. dignitaries receiving treatment in our press for the answers to these and other questions listen now to your city stations campus press conference and this transcribed discussion the editors of college newspapers question News where the personality our moderator on campus press conference is W I N Y C News editor and reporter Frank Titus now to introduce the panel and today's guest here is Mr Titus Good evening and welcome to Compass press conference tonight our guest is John Bird professor of journalism at Columbia University and former United Nations correspondent the members of our college news panel asking the questions are Jerry Miller City College Joyce Belcher Barnard College Charles talk peace college press and Charles Rosie of Columbia Daily Spectator our topic press coverage of the United Nations General Assembly with so many of the world leaders gathered in one spot for the current session of the U.N. General Assembly the role of the reporter takes on a new importance and responsibility the flow of words the sequence of events fills much of the available time and space for the reading listening public through the ordinary news cast the newspaper summary the articles features and editorials the public forums its measure of understanding of these historic events to a great extent the press is indispensable to those that would be informed how well as the job being dollars but we still live our guest Professor John Hornberger first question from Jerry Miller professor Holmberg do you think that the American press coverage of the recent U.N. meeting has been biased No I don't think so I think that the press coverage in particular. At this United Nations General Assembly has been remarkable in many ways I don't recall another time in these past fifteen years when there had been so many major heads of state. Gathered at one place I don't recall when there had been so many top flight reporters gathered to cover these people I also don't recall a time in fifteen years when there had been so many difficulties in the way of clear impartial news coverage and yet I do think that the American press has met the test so far I can only hope that the press will continue to do as good a job as it has been doing up to this time I'd like to ask you another question right now and that is that the two American presidential candidates have received meager coverage in the press when compared to the antics of some of the heads of state currently attending the General Assembly do you think that by pursuing this course the press has been catering to headlines rather than heads. It's a clever question Jerry but I think that your implication is not quite correct you see the presidential candidates have been getting enormous press coverage in the places where they are campaigning I don't think there's any question whatever of this it is quite true that in that I say the South but if the presidential candidates are campaigning in the north. There would be a tendency to play an international story because it's more spectacular and there's less local interest. I think that in New York we have had balanced coverage of the presidential campaign I think what annoys you and what probably annoys a good many American citizens is that quite generally the country over. The U.N. story has been topping the presidential story and this is because Khrushchev and particular by the Heroes Program at the United Nations has really. Done something which I want and indeed shut not only a great many delegates but I think a very large section of the American people when Khrushchev tried to break up the United Nations by attacking the office of the secretary general and when he tried to move the United Nations out of New York and I mean he doesn't have a chance of doing it then it was obvious that he wouldn't get the play I don't think that he is going to continue to get the play I would like to give you just one reason why if I may. A great newspaper editor once received a complaint from Andrea Shinseki the Soviet foreign minister who said why is it that when I give my opening speech at the United Nations I receive top coverage and headlines when I speak again I don't get quite so much coverage and I get smaller headlines and then I speak a third and a fourth and the first time I don't get very much coverage at all in fact you want to give me four paragraphs the other day and the editors answer was Mr Bishop ski when you make a new speech we will give you our a new story but until then your news is very old Khrushchev has just about played out his hand it seems to me and I think you will find that very shortly the presidential campaign will be taking over the headlines as indeed it has already begun doing let's not forget we're still a long ways away from even the mid point in this presidential campaign but will papers all do it justice George Belcher perhaps a home that's how easy or difficult has it been for a newsman to contact you when I presented is. Extremely difficult and this is not the fault of the United Nations the heads of state nor the newspaper man because of the extraordinary security precautions it is because it has become impossible to permit more than a handful of newspaper people at one time to go down on the second floor carder at the United Nations building. And because this is so frequently a number of top correspondents can't get in and there were somebody else on their staff happens to have their pass now this is a technical difficulty the public is of course not very interested in knowing what difficulties newspaper people have in covering the story I might add that they are extremely an interested too in the enormous difficulties which television and radio have in covering this extraordinary story and yet I think we should not. And realize that these people who are getting us the news are doing it in spite of a great many difficulties that are cast in their way difficulties not of their making and not of the US making I would just like to tell you this joy also about the United Nations press section if I may the United Nations itself has perhaps twelve to fifteen practiced press officers who have worked for the United Nations as international civil servants for about fifteen years it is their skill their knowledge of the delegates their ability to open up the way for newspaper press and for precious radio and television people and magazine people to get to the delegates they want that has I think makes possible first so much to be done in such a spectacular way so that the American people and I dare say most of the people of the free world to have the opportunity to be fully informed I hope that opportunity will be taken advantage of I'd like to go back to something Jerry said What do you think press home where does the general opinion among newsman at the U.N. regarding Mr Khrushchev suggestions to ask Mr Hamish Bowles and with the location of the United Nations. You know it's a funny thing about newspaper men at the United Nations but I've worked with them very closely is as one of their colleagues and of course I've observed them. In action for the past ten years since I've been to Colombia and I think that in many many cases although not all the newspaper people who have covered the United Nations are probably stronger adherents of the United Nations then perhaps some of the delegates this may not show in their copy because after all they try to report objective Lee what is said and what is done but nevertheless I know that this is true. Of them they try to do the very best job they can they try as best they can to get an objective picture therefore when Khrushchev made his. Observation. On. Commercial charging that he was biased charging that his action in the Congo had been against the principles of the United Nations I am quite sure that the personal opinion of the newspaper people covering the story if I'm if I'm not if i'm I did may dare to come to some of their opinion was that Khrushchev was very much off base. I would of course accept the Soviet. Delegation the Soviet newspaper people from sharing in this I know they don't they naturally would follow Khrushchev but of all the others they were perhaps as shocked by Khrushchev's proposals as the delegates were and I think that Khrushchev overplayed his hand now the test of any reporter is his ability to report clearly coherently without passion and without heat any start no matter what his opinion is of that story and I think that our most responsible papers. Have given us an example. Which we can shoot for in the coverage of future stories this hammer show story this attack on her show was I think beautifully covered Khrushchev was given every opportunity. He was quoted in a great way the full text of his of his speech was one for full pages by the New York Times and I have no doubt by some other newspapers in the country that were able to devote that much space to it he received this opportunity and I think that his proposal because it was so well covered and because it was so well understood does last Charles resume and John Crosby writing in The New York Herald Tribune has frequently charged that the television people don't live up to their responsibilities and that they frequently shun controversies would you care to comment on this with regard to the United Nations situation well Mr Rosina Charles my primary background is of course newspaper work and I can comment on television as a viewer I would not try to comment as an expert because I have not worked inside television except as a guest on programs etc. From my observation I would say that the chief drawback of television news coverage is it stayed here to give prime time in the evening in many instances to a story as important as the United Nations and may I add a good many others this is a complaint which I am not the first to make as you well know it has been made by a number of outstanding figures in the television industry and I don't believe that there is any great argument that this is one of the great failings of television no television in this U.N. General Assembly has tried. To do better I don't think that they have done well enough but I think that they have made a notable advance in the coverage of this General Assembly and speaking of the industry as a whole and because they have made a notable advance because they have shown conscience a very important thing I think in the mass media that we can hope for even greater advances on the part of television I can't let this opportunity go. To tell you without telling you how much I think of the Bulletin radio coverage it has been given I am speaking over radio and frequently because television and because the newspapers are so much the subject of this discussion all of us tend to overlook the really magnificent work which our radio reporters are doing let me tell you just one story Charles and then I'll subside and get the next question from Charles tuck when I went to the United Nations General Assembly on the opening day. I went to see what newspaper men were doing I couldn't stay away from the story I wasn't there to cover the first person I met. I was a student who was coming into the Columbia graduate Graduate School of Journalism tomorrow. To start as first day in the class of one thousand nine hundred sixty one he was already at work as an accredited correspondent covering the United Nations General Assembly as one of six reporters for a radio chain and I was quite proud of the way he conducted himself I might add that there are some very distinguished radio reporters who are recording themselves beautiful I.E. at the United Nations so that let us not dwell altogether on television shortcomings Let us also give radio a great deal of credit after all it is the fastest news medium I understand at the State Department before this Khrushchev arrived to question the radio and T.V. people about letting their stations become a place for his propaganda do you would you say that they went perhaps too far the other way in their coverage. While the general assembly isn't over I don't think they have to date and I don't think the newspapers have today had broaden your question just a little bit Charles rose a much if I may before the General Assembly opened not only television and radio but newspapers and wire services received a great many communications from the public spontaneous communications and telephone calls protesting that. The coverage of Mr Khrushchev at the United Nations should be played down. Saying that it ought to be restricted that as little space as possible should be given to Khrushchev and to his antics. No newspaper of consequence no wire service editor of importance no radio or television station of any consequence. Has paid any attention to these well meaning people because how can we keep Khrushchev's attack on the United Nations a secret I think the only thing we can do in a democracy if I may use. A A it to leap which has been stated many times before and probably much better how can we and I bought it in a mock Recy Taylor to do anything less than to tell the news as poorly and as impartially as we know how Charles talk for it seems quite evident that Premier Khrushchev came to the United Nations with a definite purpose as the press in Europe and explored the space of the news to patiently there has been a great deal of speculation Charles tuck on what Khrushchev really came here for there been a number of guesses but I do think that the assembly is only beginning. It is my guess that Khrushchev complete program has not yet been revealed and I think that it is a little bit premature to say that we now know why he came to the United Nations I respect those whose opinions already have been voiced in the mass media I think that some of the some of the suggestions that have been made by such people as James Reston water Letterman Cyrus Sulzberger and others are certainly worthy of attention but I think it is a little bit premature. To determine exactly what is in Khrushchev's mind why did he try why is he continuing to try to cripple the United Nations. I think that this is the story that is not yet told as I if I may say so this United Nations starry for all the many columns of newspaper print and for all of the time that has been spent on it on the air. This story has not yet begun to be told that this is only the beginning of this session this is only the general debate we have yet to have the first meeting of the political committee and as a special political committee where the delegates really get down to work we have not yet had even one session behind closed doors in which the not