Deggans Not Discussing Brian Williams Hosting Saturday Night Live on CNN Sunday, After All
UPDATE: I've been told by the good folks at Reliable Sources that they don't need my services after all. Seems that Terence, Rachel and I all basically agreed that Brian shouldn't be criticized for doing the show. So they bumped me for someone who would actually take a contrarian point of view. Oh, well.
So now the big debate in media circles is whether NBC anchor Brian Williams should stoop so low as to become the first network news anchor to host Saturday Night Live this week.
Boston University journalism professor Louis Ureneck is agin it: “Neither of them (Williams or rival Katie Couric) should be hosting Saturday Night Live," he wrote in a rant emailed to journalists. "This is a publicity gimmick and only serves to muddy the distinctions between news and entertainment television.”
I certainly agree that the blurring of lines between entertainment and journalism is a problem. But that problem comes when the blurring occurs on a news show, when viewers are expecting objective news and journalists are abandoning their duty by failing to provide it. See Williams' own take on his blog here.
Yes, Williams is taking less crap than Couric would if she did it. But Couric has spent the last eght months fighting the image that she's a lightweight journalist. If I criticized her for doing something like this -- bear in mind, she did host the Tonight Show and appear on Murphy Brown while working as a journalist at NBC News -- it would be from a public relations standpoint, not a journalism ethics one.
In today's media environment, we need to look more at the program created than the person creating it. Of course, anchors can't accept anything of value from the institutions they cover, and they must be careful about appearing in projects which threaten their objectivity. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what Williams allows them to make him do tomorrow night; can he appear in a skit satirizing the president, for example, without looking like a Bush critic?
Reminds me of the other entertainment/news furor this week: Steven Colbert's satirical run for president and the coverage it's received. Certainly, I feel sometimes that the big news guys can't win for losing: stick to traditional news and you're called boring and obsolete -- try lightening up the broadcast with a fun take on the hallowed tradition of comedians running for office and you get slammed for cheapening the process.
Seems to me, that our biggest problem is not the occasional straight-up entertainment story. A much bigger problem is the stuff that is truly blurred -- whether its punditry disguised as news coverage by Olbermann, Dobbs and O'Reilly or when the Today show does a "news report" on some issue which just happens to be the subject of a series episode airing that night.
Williams, who has proven his comedy skills on the talk show circuit, should enjoy a chance to shake off the stuffed-shirt persona he's cultivated as an anchor. It's when he starts doing monologues on the Nightly News that we really have to worry.