Ken Burns Excuses Media Covering Up 'Distracting' 'Gotcha Things' for JFK and FDR

In an interview with Ken Burns on Sunday's web-based Meet the Press feature Press Pass, moderator Chuck Todd asked the historian and film-maker about his PBS documentary on the Roosevelts: "It's amazing what the press didn't cover....I mean, and if they had, obviously it could have changed history." Burns responded:

It could. But I think we focus too much – we presume that because there was a gentleman's agreement to turn off the cameras as he [FDR] started to stand up or when he started to sit down, that we know less...."Wasn't that quaint an arrangement? They sort of looked the other way when JFK did that or they, you know, didn't really notice Franklin Roosevelt's illness." They actually did and they actually knew more and had better and more intimate access to power, and that's an important thing. [Listen to the audio]

Burns argued: "These are all stories that are shared by a unique deeply human thing that you don't superimpose politics over it or even this thing called truth. That's not the way the media is....And when we divorce ourselves of the distracting sort of 'Oh, gotcha' things or 'Oh, he's not perfect, she's not perfect,' we then liberate ourselves to get into the heart of the human dilemma..."

So the press censoring news coverage of Democrats was simply an effort to "liberate" themselves in order to examine the "human dilemma" of such liberal politicians, instead of clear evidence of bias.

Here is a transcript of the September 21 Press Pass exchange, which aired on the local NBC Washington D.C. affiliate WRC-4:

 

11:43 AM ET

(...)

CHUCK TODD: You know, Ken, and you get at this in The Roosevelts. It's amazing what the press didn't cover.

KEN BURNS: It is.

TODD: I mean, and if they had, obviously it could have changed history.

BURNS: It could. But I think we focus too much – we presume that because there was a gentleman's agreement to turn off the cameras as he started to stand up or when he started to sit down, that we know less, that we're – we actually do know more now – but we know less. They had – Franklin Roosevelt had 998 press conferences. Everyone in that audience and everyone in the press understood the huge efforts it took for him to just get up or sit down and they were aware of it and I think had more access.

Now we don't have it. We have a moat around the White House and that's – we know very little about our contemporary leaders for the last 30-40 years, as the bubble has increased.

And so I think the romanticization of that media as if they – "Wasn't that quaint an arrangement? They sort of looked the other way when JFK did that or they, you know, didn't really notice Franklin Roosevelt's illness." They actually did and they actually knew more and had better and more intimate access to power, and that's an important thing.

These are all stories that are shared by a unique deeply human thing that you don't superimpose politics over it or even this thing called truth. That's not the way the media is. It's about power and ethics. Robert Penn Warren said that's what it was about in Huey Long and Willie Stark. And I made a film on Huey Long, he made a novel about Willie Stark. We're talking about the same-

TODD: And it is what we cover. We are covering power and we are covering sort of-  

BURNS: Power and ethics. And when we divorce ourselves of the distracting sort of "Oh, gotcha" things or "Oh, he's not perfect, she's not perfect," we then liberate ourselves to get into the heart of the human dilemma in which these things about power manifest not just in political office but in life, in personality.

(...)

Media Bias Debate Liberals & Democrats NBC Meet the Press Ken Burns Chuck Todd

Sponsored Links