Broadcast TV anchors reflect on role of news in the Trump era

Broadcast TV anchors reflect on role of news in the Trump era
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The lead anchors of the three evening news broadcasts took part in a panel discussion in Las Vegas on Tuesday about the state of the news media in the age of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE, with a focus on the president's attacks against the media.

"I don't think you can tweet away or insult away the years of integrity and trust that were built by these three organizations, so I don't think we're in danger on that level," NBC News anchor Lester Holt said in reference Trump's tweets aimed at the Fourth Estate.

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"We are reporting to a divided America," ABC News' David Muir said during the panel at the PromaxBDA Station Summit, marking the first time the three anchors from ABC, NBC and CBS have been on stage together.

"I think there's half of the country that's still saying, 'How did this happen?' And the other half of the country saying, 'You've got to give this guy a chance.'" 

CBS News anchor Jeff Glor was asked about a recent analysis from the conservative Media Research Center that concluded 90 percent of coverage of Trump on the evening newscasts was negative.

"If you have an agenda, you don't belong in this business," Glor replied. "We're not trying to promote an agenda, one way or the other. We're trying to do the best news cast we can every night."

When asked about cable news, which draws more attention because of its 24/7 nature and provocative, oftentimes partisan opinions, Muir jabbed that the medium is increasingly a place "where you're going to hear your thoughts back to yourself." 

"I think the cables actually bring valuable discussion," Muir explained. "I just think the danger in the cables is if you have the far left, the far right, if you only go to the place where you're going to hear your thoughts back to yourself."

The all-male panel was asked about broadcast news coverage of sexual harassment in the industry, which hit close to home at both CBS News and NBC News, where longtime anchors Charlie RoseCharles Peete RoseConway to CNN's Cuomo in heated debate: 'I'll walk away' if you continue to interrupt me #MeToo era shows there's almost never only one accuser, says Hill.TV's Krystal Ball '60 Minutes' chief out at CBS amid harassment allegations MORE and Matt LauerMatthew (Matt) Todd LauerConway to CNN's Cuomo in heated debate: 'I'll walk away' if you continue to interrupt me #MeToo era shows there's almost never only one accuser, says Hill.TV's Krystal Ball 'Tonight Show’ cancels Norm Macdonald appearance after #MeToo comments MORE were fired last year.

Holt defended his network's coverage of the harassment allegations against Lauer and others.

"I do know that we didn't flinch. These stories, whether they were hitting close to home or hitting at a competing network, we knew that we had to cover it aggressively, and independently. As journalists, we had to work solely on getting the story right," he said.

Holt, 59, the most veteran of the three in the industry compared to Muir, 44 and Glor, 42, also weighed in on the frenetic news cycle under the current administration, noting shock value has greatly increased because consumers are flooded with widely contrasting information on a daily basis.

“We’re not shocked anymore as a country, there are stories that we’ll all run to because they’re enormous and within two days no one’s talking about them anymore because we are just at a point now that shock happens on a daily basis, that we are no longer shocked and that’s one of the challenges of what we do is to remind people that no, we’ve got to keep talking about this, this is an important topic," Holt said, mentioning several high-profile shootings.

"Parkland was unique in that it kept the nation’s attention because of the activism of the students, but you know, we’re not talking about what happened in Santa Fe, Texas, just a few weeks ago. We’re not even talking about what happened just down the street here less than a year ago.”

Overall, the evening newscasts attract an average of more than 20 million across ABC, NBC and CBS, with Muir's "World News Tonight" now slightly ahead of Holt's "NBC Nightly News" in total viewers, averaging 7.93 million per weekday compared to 7.57 million for NBC in the month of May. CBS under Glor, who replaced Scott Pelley in 2017, finished third with just 5.68 million.

NBC did win the key 25 to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers covet most, delivering 1.63 million viewers in the category compared to ABC's 1.59 million and CBS's 1.17 million.