Policy and a Pint: The Line Between News and Opinion

The details have been announced for next month’s Policy and a Pint session discussing the changing nature of news and the redefinition of the word journalism.

Here’s the release:

Event Fact Note

Policy and a Pint: The Line Between News and Opinion

December 15, 2010

Doors at 5:30. Program 6:00-7:00

Varsity Theater

According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans are spending more time “with” the news. That means listening to radio, watching TV, reading blogs, opening newspapers and paging through magazines.

But the news sources listed in the research are surprising. It includes the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and network nighttime broadcasts, of course, but also Bill O’Reilly’s show, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show and Rush Limbaugh. Where is the line between opinion, news and comedy?

Steve Seel will talk with MPR News’ Chris Worthington and Bob Collins about Juan Williams, objectivity, opinion, Keith Olbermann and how different generations get and interpret their news. If Walter Cronkite felt he could venture into commentary, why can’t today’s anchors and journalists?

Policy and a Pint is presented by Citizens League and 89.3 The Current.


Chris Worthington joined Minnesota Public Radio in July 2006 as program director for its Regional News & Information Service. He has more than 25 years of news experience, most recently with the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, where he served as managing editor and senior editor for business and technology from 1997 to 2006. From 1983 to 1996, he worked for the Dallas Morning News as its assistant business editor, assistant state editor and sports editor. He held other newspaper positions with Newsday, the Fort Lauderdale News and the Fort Myers News-Press. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from the University of Southern California and a masters of business administration degree from the University of Dallas.

Bob Collins joined MPR in 1992. He served as broadcast editor and coordinated MPR’s political coverage until 1999, when he was asked to direct MPR’s foray into online journalism. He previously was vice president of programming for Berkshire Broadcasting Company in Massachusetts, and national desk editor at the RKO Radio Network in New York. He also was editor at WHDH in Boston, where he received the Edward R. Murrow Award for his investigation into the Boston mob scene. Bob is a private pilot and is building his own airplane.

Like just about every other public radio newsroom, we had a meeting after the Juan Williams “situation” to go over this question of how much of “us” we should reveal to people. It’s a difficult line to draw. Chris’ view is there should be a reasonableness to the expression of any opinion. No arguments there although I enjoyed debating the edges of the assertion with him. Someone in the room said, “you and Bob should debate on the radio.” Someone else in the room said, “Bob, you should shut up,” so we settled on a format that is halfway between the two.

It’ll be fun. You can make your reservations here. If you can’t make it, you can always scalp the ticket.

  • GregS

    “Where is the line between opinion, news and comedy?”


    Beyond the basic data of what happened to who, when. Everything else is comedy.

  • Bob Collins

    Negative. The code is







    The “why” is what drives people crazy.

  • Shannon

    How I wish I could attend! It would be an interesting group to hear, and I suspect the dialogue/discussion afterward would push how people conceive of the role of journalism and its practitioners.

  • GregS

    “The “why” is what drives people crazy.”

    True but a more important thing that drives people crazy is when the bias of a news organization determines what they choose to tell the public.

    Case in point. Yesterday marked the first anniversary of ClimateGate, the WaterGate of science. I remember reading the emails the next day, and clearly IPCC Lead Authors were committing felonies and encouraging each other to break the law. (Yes, intentionally deleting FOI data to prevent release is a felony).

    Yet the story never hit the MSM. Only FOX came to the party, days late.

    It is as if all those reporters who cut their teeth on WaterGate had gone over to the other side and were covering up rather than digging up high level corruption.

    Story after story after story, cascaded out of the emails. The most revealing of which was the extent of the subsequent cover-ups.

    Three commissions “exonerated” the IPCC Lead Authors – but not one commission asked them whether they deleted data requested by FOI (a felony), or whether they broke the FOI law.

    Three commissions “reviewed studies” by the subjects of the emails, but each commission asked the very people being investigated to select which studies to review.

    Three commissions refused to interview the IPCC Lead Authors critics, the very people whose FOI demands precipitated the crisis.

    The only analogy I could find for this behavior would be if the Sen. Sam Erin had gone to Nixon in the wake of WaterGate and told him, “Tell me what I should investigate and don’t worry, no one will ask you if you broke the law.”

    Yet none of this was reported in the American MSM because the MSM stubbornly refuses to bring the science and policies of the IPCC into question – even if it means covering up corruption.

  • Shannon

    I don’t watch much FOX News, mostly because I don’t typically watch 24-hour news channels. I know a lot of people (with left and right views) who enjoy the news portion (without major personalities, just reporting news). I also know FOX has a Conservative lean to it, and I wonder how much that played into them deciding to be the “only” TV channel that reported it.

    If there existed a similar Watergate-type issue during the Bush years, I have a feeling that FOX would be reporting it in a less investigatory way than, say, MSNBC might. Showing the flaws with global warming, etc, fits into FOX’s overall identity as a news organization, and ignoring it fits into MSNBC’s identity as a news organization. This, then, speaks directly to Bob’s point about addressing bias in the media.

    Furthermore, I would suggest that the definition of “mainstream media” not be shorthand for TV-only news. I read the Star Tribune and there was coverage of “ClimateGate” in it pretty much daily. I also heard it being debated on “Science Fridays” on NPR not long after the story broke. It’s rare that any story only gets covered by one media outlet.

  • GregS

    FOX and MSNBC offer news-from-a-viewpoint, so does almost everyone else.

    The StarTribune never covered ClimateGate. They however, did provide cover for ClimateGate. Most Americans are still blythly unaware that lead authors of the IPCC committed felonies rather than release data subject to legal FOI requests.

    British coverage was completely different. Their press was all over ClimateGate. One might say, well, it was after all a British story (which it wasn’t, it was a world story) but the difference is the British press has a strong anti-establishment bent.

    In America, the press is the establishment.

  • Shannon

    No, in Britain the main source of news – the BBC – is funded entirely by the government. While it maintains a strong contrarian bent to ts news, it is not fully anti-establishment. I live in Canada and the CBC is similarly government-owned. It is no coincidence that in the past several years of minority Conservative (capitalizes here because it is the party) government, the CBC has become more right-leaning in its news broadcasts. They covered “ClimateGate” primarily because of the controversies over the Alberta oil sands being the “dirtiest oil” in the world. In this way, ClimateGate allowed supporters of the oil sands to point to scientists lying to throw the global warming baby out with the climate hangs bathwater.

    I simply don’t believe that MNSBC “never” covered the story, but of course I have no evidence since I don’t watch it. The point of he debate of bias and journalism is whether there should be any and whether it is even possible not to have any. To me, the Trib’s fact-providig on the climate story was sufficient. I think being able to read facts and analyze them in the frame of one’s own views is a valuable (and declining) resource. That is to say that people are allowing FOX or MSNBC decide for them how “ClimateGate” fit into the broader story arc of climate change overall. That those scientists were dishonest – and yes, the why of it – were the essence of the story, not whether climate change itself exists. One question that arises, of course, is whether anyone can trust what hat particular group of scientists have reported about climate change, again, not simply declare that all scientists forge data about the subject.

    Bias and opinion in reporting and constructing he news inherently affects the direction and pervasiveness of the “why” questions any journalist asks.

  • Shannon

    Sorry about some of the spelling errors there, autocorrect does me no favors.

  • GregS

    When I spoke of the anti-establishment bent of the English press, I excluded the BBC which is of course, The Establishment.

    I agree with you that the essence of the story was the “why of it” but I strongly disagree with your point “not whether climate change itself exists”.

    We know the earth has been warming for 150 years – however no one fully understands why or can analyze with any confidence the role of carbon-forcing.

    The science cited by the IPCC falls far short of proving anything, instead it is the IPCC lead authors who make conclusions based on “level of certainty” in the science, then say “trust us.”

    ClimateGate revealed that the lead authors were an extremely small group of mutually supportive personalities who were inherently untrustworthy, so how can we “trust” their “certainties”?

    Now we have very high level voices in the climate community questioning the methods and conclusions of the IPCC.

    Suddenly, we learn that IPCC “certainty” is entirely subjective (which has no place in science). I recommend reading the blog of Dr.Judith Curry, head of Georgia Tech’s Earth Science Department to come up to speed on these issues. It is also extremely good reading.

    I have come a long way to make a point, the MSM meme that the religion of anthropomorphic climate change has not been shaken by ClimateGate was the spin crafted in the month that the MSM left for environmentalists to manage their message.

    The real story – that the IPCC’s conclusions are based on misplaced trust has yet to be covered.