Rick Kaplan: Entertainment, News and Politics

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November 10, 2015 — Former fellow and TV news producer Richard N. Kaplan returned to the Shorenstein Center to discuss the 2016 election, including the debates and the role of the media, and the need for serious journalism.

Kaplan has worked for CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC, and served as executive producer for Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, and Christiane Amanpour. He recently served as creative consultant on Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show “The Newsroom.”

Kaplan opened his talk by critiquing CNBC’s October Republican debate, saying the network treated the debate as entertainment and pitted candidates against each other. “I don’t think people are tuning into the debates for those kinds of things,” said Kaplan. So far, Fox News and CNN’s Anderson Cooper have done the best job of hosting the debates, said Kaplan.

Kaplan discussed the 2016 election, and the status of the candidates to date. He predicted that, barring an abysmal performance in the November 10 debate, “Jeb Bush is not done,” and he doesn’t see Ben Carson or Donald Trump being on the ticket in November 2016. Kaplan expressed doubt that voters would rally behind Marco Rubio, who would likely be perceived as too young and inexperienced. Kasich is “probably the most successful governor in the United States,” said Kaplan, but also noted that “he has his own issues.” Chris Christie is unlikely to become a frontline candidate, said Kaplan, despite some engaging speeches.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign manages her image so heavily that it makes her appear less authentic, said Kaplan. Using entertainment, such as her appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” has worked to Clinton’s advantage, showing another side of her. But for Donald Trump, appearing on “Saturday Night Live” likely backfired, said Kaplan, as he had to tone down his personality.

Kaplan then addressed the blurring of news and entertainment, and where to find quality news coverage. He said of “CBS Morning News”: “They do great journalism, they respect the news. They don’t spend a whole lot of time teaching you how to carve pumpkins and slice turkeys,” and noted “60 Minutes” as another example of high-quality journalism. He also noted that “The Today Show” is “starting to return to its roots, which is serious journalism.”

Kaplan said that there is a significant market for serious news, proven by the example of “All Things Considered” which has 22 million listeners – twice the audience of TV morning news programs. “They’re not listening to it because it’s got snappy music and they tell funny jokes. They’re listening to it because it’s got deep dive stories and they’re substantive… people are looking for well-curated, serious, important news.” These programs are the result of thoughtful curation by producers who have a “higher opinion of the audience” – instead of believing that the audience just wants frivolous or salacious stories.

Kaplan also discussed Brian Williams’ reentry into the news, news values and ethics, international reporting, and his involvement as a consultant to “The Newsroom.” Listen to the full audio recording, to be posted soon.

Article and photo by Nilagia McCoy of the Shorenstein Center.