The Best Evening News Report in the US--Only the BBC can top it among English-speaking news broadcasts
Currently called The Newshour with Jim Lehrer (which may change when Lehrer steps down), this is by far the most-informative and least-biased news report on American television. Five days a week, the Newshour is the true heir to the CBS Evening News with the Walter Cronkite. The reporting is first-rate, the issues are the most important, and the hour steers clear of opinionated commentary, except on Fridays. Briefly, for about 20 minutes every Friday, Mark Shields and David Brooks provide observations regarding the past week's political movements.
The format was changed recently. Originally, a news summary began the hour and was followed by anywhere between three and five in-depth stories, some of which were summarized at the beginning. The financial crisis of late 2008 forced the Newshour to revise its format. Now the top stories may include in-depth analysis immediately following before moving to the other stories not necessarily included in the summary. The Newshour ends with its recap of major stories.
Unlike the other major networks which might give blow-by-blow accounts when a celebrity or politician is involved with scandal or unexpected death, the Newshour remains with those stories that can impact the lives of everyday citizens, both in the United States and worldwide. CNN, one of the better cable news organizations, along with MSNBC and Fox devoted enormous airtime to the death of Michael Jackson in late June of 2009. Not that his death was not newsworthy, but the media coverage of Jackson was quite excessive. Many other events relevant to the state of the nation and the world deserved to trump the expounding upon every nuance regarding Jackson's passing. Did we really need to see continual interviews with Jackson's family and closest associates for weeks after his death? And as someone devoted to social causes, Jackson may have disapproved of the television news over-coverage of his death. Only the Newshour kept up with other stories, such as the Sotomayer appointment to the US Supreme Court and the Health Care Bill.
On Fridays, the Newshour includes political analysis by journalists Mark Shields and David Brooks, two of the best commentators on the airwaves, their only rivals David Gergen (who may be the absolute best political commentator in the business) and Jeffrey Toobin, both of whom work for CNN. Instead of the ranting and ravings of people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly (who are really entertainers and not journalists), the format is a discussion with Jim Lehrer (or another Newshour regular) asking questions of the commentators to guide the conversation. David Brooks is a Republican and leans slightly to the right and Mark Shields is a feisty Democrat who leans to the left. Since Brooks joined Shields in the early 2000's (not to be confused with Brooke Shields), replacing Republican spokesperson Paul Gigot, the Friday analysis has improved by leaps and bounds, bringing the quality back to where it was with David Gergen and Mark Shields in the early 1990's. (Gergen left the show in the mid-1990's when then-president Bill Clinton asked him to join his team at the White House.) Shields and Brooks appear to respect and like one another despite their political disagreements; they rarely jump over each other when the other is speaking and always maintain an air of mutual esteem, unlike other political debates where the participants would probably wield baseball bats if given the chance. Shields and Brooks recognize that they will disagree at times but their job is to present both sides of the political debate in the most civilized manner possible. They have honed their commentary to where they feel comfortable criticizing their respective parties and members rather than simply paying lip-service to party ideals.
For example, Brooks became interested in Barack Obama long before he made a run for the White House. Shields has great respect for the republican John McCain. The two contribute immensely to the public's need to better understand the current political underpinnings of the climate of Washington DC. Few do it better. One of the most interesting observations in recent memory was Shields' criticism of John Kerry's lack of message in his 2004 US presidential campaign. Both acknowledge and respect the other's opinions, which is the kind of political discourse we need more of in the United States.
The only advice I can give: switch from Fox, CNN and MSNBC once in awhile and try the Newshour. And try to catch the Friday commentary with Shields and Brooks. You can always switch it back to Larry King if things get too intellectual for you.
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