June 18, 2003
Brinkley set standard for news integrity
David Brinkley was a pioneer of the news
media. In his own words, “I was at NBC when the
first television camera was rolled in.”
With Chet Huntley, his co-anchor at NBC News, he garnered
fame far beyond the realm of journalism. In 1965, a consumer-research
company found that Huntley and Brinkley were recognized
by more adult Americans than John Wayne or The Beatles.
Did Brinkley represent integrity? Was his integrity
what caused him to be so admired?
With the death of David Brinkley on June 11, America
lost a superstar. He communicated a sense of proportion
about his work and himself. He seemed to be comfortable
reporting the news with no effort on his part to become
the news. He delivered his reporting in an even-handed
manner. When he did choose to make his opinions known,
he offered them straight out, to the point and without
apology or vindictiveness.
Brinkley would not be a “spin doctor,” nor
would he have hired one. He called them as he saw them.
For that reason alone, one could describe him as an individual
with integrity - precisely because there was congruence
between what he said and what he did, as well as what
he said about what he did. His honesty could be felt,
from his words and his “on-camera” delivery.
At least, that was how he appeared for about 60 years.
Faking integrity for six decades is difficult, if not
impossible, especially when millions of people are watching
and listening, day in and day out.
It could be that Brinkley’s celebrity and fame
were the results of a less complicated time. The era
in which he built his career, from the 1940’s to
1990’s, was moving toward (but had not yet achieved)
current levels of cynicism and mistrust of public figures.
News broadcasting had not yet sunk to more recent greed-driven
levels with the “take no prisoners” pursuit
of ratings and revenues.
In the early days of television journalism, such news
professionals as Brinkley, Edward R. Murrow and Walter
Cronkite, recognized the importance of honesty, courage
and forthrightness. The public placed its trust in them
and they knew it.
So, what is it about David Brinkley’s
death that causes us to pause and reflect?
First, we yearn for times when trust and integrity
were the currency of the day.
Second, we know that such courage and predictability
will be hard to replace.
Third, his death is a signal that we must not continue
the mindless feeding of an insatiable appetite for the
sensational at the expense of the important, no matter
the financial incentives.
Fourth, his life reminds us that we are stewards of
integrity, and each time we compromise it for short-term
recognition and ego satisfaction, we put our values at
Fifth, we have finally lost his steadiness
as well as his presence, at the wheel of the great
ship called “television
news broadcasting” and we will never again hear
his thoughtful integrity-centered comments nor feel his
reassuring stature as he signs off at the end of a thoughtful
and substantive television broadcast.