Media Fellow Sander Vanocur on Political Reform and the Role of the Media

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

"The media needs to be taken down a peg," said media fellow Sander Vanocur, author and former NBC News correspondent. Vanocur leveled criticism against the role the media plays in politics in his talk "Media Malarkey: Can Democracy Survive the Mass Media?" on September 28.

Calling himself a political junkie and resistant to reform, he said he prefers politics as they once were, "wise, witty, and profane." Vanocur questioned the value of political reform and how the media now covers politics.

Drawing on his considerable experience, he offered comments and anecdotes about various issues. One concern he expressed was that journalists, who he compared to avenging angels, would like to replace politicians. Another concern was the 24-hour news cycle, saying that the media have become an "electronic tapeworm that must be constantly fed." He noted, too, that the Telecommunications Act has received no coverage by the media.

"I'm a strong advocate of freedom of the press," he said, "as long as they have something to say."

A veteran of more than forty years in print, radio, and television journalism, Vanocur recently completed a video series on the postwar Congress and the media. In addition, he did a video series on television and the president, which was distributed to university and college journalism schools and political science departments.

Vanocur began his career as a reporter in London for the Manchester Guardian. Before joining NBC News in 1957, he was a general assignment reporter for the New York Times. He gained national prominence during his 14 years with NBC News, where he served three years as White House correspondent. While with NBC News, Vanocur was also the Washington correspondent for the Today Show, a contributing editor to the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and the host of a monthly two-hour magazine program called First Tuesday.

After NBC News, Vanocur became the senior correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television of PBS. Two years later, he became a consultant to the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions and a professor of communications at Duke University. From 1975 to 1977 Vanocur was the television editor and critic for the Washington Post. After joining ABC News in 1977, he was ABC News' chief correspondent in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections.