High marks for seriousness, maybe…

Howard Kurtz gives us a rundown of George Stephanopoulos’ first day as anchor of ABC’s “This Week.” I found this observation interesting:

“The good news is that Stephanopoulos was serious, substantive and smooth, and avoided any screw-ups. The bad news is that he has so stripped himself of any opinions that the program lacked pizazz. On the air, quizzing Condoleezza Rice and Tom Daschle, Stephanopoulos was earnest, prepared and polite, never interrupting his guests or arguing with them. He couldn’t get them to commit much news.”

I’m concerned that Kurtz–normally a champion of serious journalism–would confuse the boundary between opinion and news, which, for TV, is often the boundary between entertainment and news. To my way of thinking, “serious” and “substantive” trump anything else Stephanopoulos may have been or done. The concept of “pizazz” should not enter into considerations of serious and substantive journalism. If the journalism is indeed as described, then it carries its own form of pizazz by definition.

Further, I’m wondering what Kurtz means by “couldn’t get them to commit much news.” How is that possible for a performance he deemed serious and substantive? I would argue that no news is possible on a show that lacks seriousness and substance.

I think what we see here is the natural conflict between TV as a medium and journalism as a practice. The structural biases of that medium make serious and substantive journalism difficult to achieve. Kurtz is stretching for something to say about Stephanopoulos’ performance in a medium that robs events and issues of their substance.