Analyzing the news business -- a talk with Hodding Carter
Hodding Carter III is having his face powdered by makeup. The anchor man and chief correspondent of TV's first nationally transmitted examination of press performance is taping the second of eight pilot shows in the new series "Inside Story" (PBS, Thursdays, 8-8:30 p.m., check local listing for time and repeats).
Viewers will probably remember Mr. Carter for his many appearances on TV as assistant secretary of state for public affairs during the Iranian hostage crisis. The name of his father, Hodding Carter Jr., may be familiar to newspaper buffs who recall him as the founder and publisher of the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Miss., and, especially, its brave early civil-rights posture.
Now I am interviewing the very busy young Mr. Carter in the makeup room of a TV recording studio on New York's far west side. Amid puffs of powder, we talk about the show and the fact that there is hope the first eight segments will encourage underwriters for at least another full season of 26 shows.
"We are trying to take an across-the-board look at the news business -- TV as well as newspapers," says Mr. Carter, as the makeup artist combs his hair carefully so that the ever-present forelock falls just right. "We've already done segments on how TV covered the James Brady shooting, on a newspaper in Tucson which won a Pulitzer, on a New Jersey school newspaper which ran an interview with a drug dealer."
Will "Inside Story" do anything about liberties taken with facts in television docudramas?
"Soon," he says. "I hate to give away my editorial viewpoint, but I have seen a couple of docudramas in areas I know something about and, believe me. . . ." He shakes his head, showering a bit of the powder on his shoulders.
Does Hodding Carter feel the recent Pulitzer scandal, in which a prize-winning Washington Post reporter admitted fabricating a story, will affect future coverage by newspapers?
"By everybody," he asserts. "Checking of sources by editors is going to be a more important part of the business of news for a long time. If a story raises any warning signals on the part of the editor, there will be further checking of sources. I don't know whether that's all bad, either. We in the newspaper business have been very loose, taking an awful lot on faith."
Does he find work in TV news very different from working on a newspaper?
"Well, the more I am in this TV business, the more I see how intricate the process is, how many hands are involved.
"I write a good deal of the show myself -- the the commentary and a lead-in and lead-out. But basically it is a group process. The major difference is the pressure of TV -- the absolute necessity to make your point in a far more compact structure than you have to in print journalism."
What has he discovered about the average persons attitude toward the press?
"Most often they say 'Why does the press think that it has the right to. . .' and you can fill in your own final phrase.
"There is a pervasive sense that the press is almost an unrestrained and unchecked element of power. That is mysterious to me.
"They see examples of what they perceive to be factual errors and wonder what remedy, what recourse they have, if any. Too many people feel that the press has done them wrong somehow."
How does Mr. Carter feel about the surveys which reveal that many people claim they get most of their news from TV rather than newspapers?
"I doubt those statistics which show that more than 60 percent of the people get all their news from TV. I don't think those polls are accurate. It is just that they remember what they saw on television more vividly. I believe they get a lot more information from newspapers than they think they do.
"They may read a fine piece of reporting on San Salvador and then see a little bit on TV and, when somebody asks them, they are likely to say they learned all they know about San Salvador from TV when actually they got a lot more than they remember from the newspaper story."
"We really have to roll. . ." interrupts the producer.
"Sorry," says this newspaperman-anchor man as he checks his makeup in the mirror and dashes out to the waiting cameras.