Hillary Clinton On Journalism: Less Advocacy, More Explanation Needed

Apr 28, 2014

"I think journalism has changed quite a bit, in a way that is not good for the country."
Hillary Clinton

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at the University of Connecticut last week. The speech was closed to the public, but she took questions, including one from UConn President Susan Herbst exploring the current state of journalism.

UConn President Susan Herbst: I know you have some experience with the media and with journalists. I was wondering if they can play any role in breaking up the gridlock and making for more bipartisanship, helping to solve some of our intractable problems.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: So many of our professions have changed dramatically. That's understandable, because technology has changed, and the way people do business and interact [has] changed. I think journalism has changed quite a bit, in a way that is not good for the country, and not good for journalism. That's obviously my observation, based on my experience.

I think that three things have happened. One is that a lot of serious news reporting has become more entertainment-driven, more opinion-driven, as opposed to factual. People book onto the shows political figures; commentators who will be controversial, who will be provocative, because it's a good show. You may not learn anything, but you might be entertained.

I think that's just become an unfortunate pattern that I wish could be broken. Journalists will be quick to say, "I'd love to," but there's no audience for that. I believe that there can be, if people were given the chance to respond to not advocacy journalism, but more explanatory journalism. There is a lot going on in the world that needs explanation. There are so many examples of that.

Too many journalists believe that the way to present a complex, somewhat provocative issue is by having two sides. I used to kid them, and say, "Well, yeah, somebody would get on, and say the Earth is round, and you'd feel compelled to have the Flat Earth Society." And they would roll their eyes, and say, "Well, not that bad, but sort of."

So, yes, you make room for the climate deniers. It's okay to have people who ask hard questions about what we're going to do about climate change, who come at it in a very rigorous, scientific way. But [it's] not [okay] to have people who just basically roll their eyes, and say it's not happening, and [say,] "I'm not going to participate."

On the Affordable Care Act

"A recent poll said people really hate it, but they don't want to see it repealed."
Hillary Clinton

The rollout went extremely well here in Connecticut, in large measure because of good planning and implementation by state government. People didn't really understand what was happening with it, because all they saw was an argument about it. We didn't even give people the basic facts to make up their own minds. All they saw was this blizzard.

A recent poll in the last day or two said people really hate it, but they don't want to see it repealed. Somehow, through the confusion, they realized it's probably pretty good that pre-existing conditions are covered, and it's probably pretty good my adult children can stay on my policy for a number of years, and on and on.

We need better information more effectively delivered in some form. I know there are enough sites on politics, and other issues, on the Internet. But that, unfortunately, is still not the way most people get their information about what's going on, news-wise.

It's important for journalists to realize that they have to do their homework, too. They really should be well-prepared when they interview people, [and] when they talk about issues. [The] audience usually tunes in to see whoever the journalist is. I'm talking about television. That person has a responsibility, as well.

I think with professional tweaking and some creativity, we could address some of the issues that we know are plaguing journalism today.