Aaron Brown: I Wasn't Opinionated Enough for Cable News

Former ABC and CNN anchor Aaron Brown granted an interview to TV Guide about his new gig as host of the PBS foreign-affairs chronicle Wide Angle. He told them today's journalism students were cynical because they saw "journalism failing" before the Iraq war. Brown declared that the cable-news business wasn't for him, because it was based on "big broad opinion guys" -- as if Aaron Brown wasn't a liberal crusader?

Brown, who teaches journalism at Arizona State University, said today's students don't know much about television history and don't have enough respect for his TV news icons, like the late Peter Jennings:

Their view of the business is very broad. They see it all as "the business," as everything from the Travel Channel to ABC. I saw the business when I was their age as the networks and local TV. Their view of television is much broader. They are also incredibly cynical. A lot of that has to do with the Iraq war. They just saw journalism failing.

TV Guide suggested to Brown "The cable news business sort of shifted under your feet in the years you were in it. You were hired as a guy who could report and anchor live for hours, but the business became more about personalities." Brown agreed:

Fox found its audience and the business was redefined as a business that loved or needed big broad opinionated personalities. When you look at what's successful on cable, that's what it is. Whether its Keith Olbermann, or Lou Dobbs or Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, they tend to be big broad opinion guys. I was a news anchor of a different time. The people that I admired and taught me my craft were very traditional news anchors. Peter Jennings was the best news anchor ever born, not withstanding, he was a traditional news anchor.

It's certainly true that Brown sought to anchor in the mantle of Jennings, but both were liberal sermonizers. Let's go back to our MediaWatch newsletter and the earliest days of the Contract with America in 1995:

With Congress debating the Contract with America, ABC attacked its premise, citing voters as the problem -- for not realizing how many government benefits they receive.

On the January 5, 1995 World News Tonight, Aaron Brown reported from "Knox County, Tennessee...In November, it voted Republican, 2-1. Then and now, it likes the message of smaller government." After quoting residents unhappy with taxes and spending, he opined: "That's a pretty common complaint around here... It is also dead wrong. In fact, Knox County gets back much more from the federal government than its residents pay in." He castigated voter hypocrisy: "When people in Knox County talk of smaller government and less spending, they may mean it, they probably do. But do they want to lose this bus? Or this highway? Or this tunnel? Do they want to lose this lab? This cop? This teacher? Do they really want to make that choice at all?"

Yeah, right, Brown's no "big broad opinion guy." Brent Baker has more recent examples here.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis