The Eyewitness News Team is a diverse group of people from different backgrounds. Our team ranges in age from their 20s to their 60s. They are black, white, hispanic, Indian, Asian, male, female, straight, gay, married, single, divorced, Catholic, Jewish, and the list goes on. What we have in common is the commitment to solid broadcast journalism.
It is not always easy. Some of the people who are the subject of our reports are our neighbors, parents of our children’s classmates, former classmates, etc. Connecticut is a small state and it is not unusual to run into newsmakers at restaurants, a UConn game, even the beach. Still, we need to make sure if this person needs to be asked tough questions, they will be asked by Eyewitness News. If one of our reporters has a conflict of interest, he or she will be re-assigned to another story. For example, and this is hypothetical, if a reporter was married to the daughter of a police chief, then that reporter would not be assigned to cover a police story in that city.
On Friday, Channel 3′s Len Besthoff filed a report about the state’s handing of Winter Storm Alexander. We received many e-mails and calls from disgrunted viewers who sat in traffic for hours on Thursday. Many blamed the state government and Governor Rell. As the state’s top elected official we wanted to interview the Governor about the storm traffic and the state’s planning for it. On Friday, Len was offered a “media availability” with the Governor, but was then asked what he would ask the Governor. He was told he could ask about Saturday’s impending storm. Len said he wanted to ask about Thursday. He was told “no” and the availability was cancelled. With that restriction, we would have cancelled the interview anyway, and told you why we did that.
Many who don’t understand journalism might have said “so what, just ask about Saturday, she is after all the governor.” That’s not what we do. When we agree to conditions and limitations of an interview, we compromise our integrity. We fail you, the viewer. Conditions of time, locations and details like that are understandable, but to have someone else, particularly an official elected by you: the public citizen, define our line of questioning, is unacceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, we do not have an axe to grind against Governor Rell. In fact I like her personally, and respect her professionally. I often see her at events, I even served as Master of Ceremonies for her inaugural ball. It doesn’t mean I won’t ask her tough questions when I need to. On Friday, Len had every right to ask the Governor about the state’s handling of Thursday’s storm.
Our job is to serve as your watchdog, to bring you the truth. We can’t do that if we agree to limitations on what we can ask. A public official can respond by saying “No comment,” or dance around the question, but as journalists we need to be able ask that question. When we can’t get the interview, we dig and get the answers somewhere else.
That’s why I became a journalist. As a child I was a paper boy and vividly recall reading the story of Richard Nixon’s resignation on the front page. Later the book “All the President’s Men” by the men who broke the Watergate Story (Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward) inspired me to become a reporter. I was not the only one who chose this profession because of their dogged pursuit of the truth.
For 50 years this is how Channel 3, CBS news and many news organizations have operated. I don’t forsee any changes in our news gathering policies.
We have a tremendous responsibility to the people of Connecticut, one we do not take lightly. On some days we have more viewers than watch our competitors combined. We didn’t get there by taking the easy way, and I can assure we won’t in the future.
I know some of you already know this. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I received about what Len said
“I heard you, tonight, speak about (Len’s) cancellation of the Governor’s interview today.
Thanks for persevering, being an honest person, whom we listen to and trust every night at our dinner table”
I’d like to hear from you.