The first time I ever watched TV as a young boy, it was WDSU. I was sitting in my grandmother’s house, watching a snowy picture on a small round screen. The first time I appeared on national television, I was sitting in WDSU’s historic studio on Royal Street in the French Quarter, as the signal beamed from New Orleans to New York for “The Today Show” in the early 1990s.
As the estimable Clancy DuBos pointed out to me, WDSU is the oldest television station in Louisiana and one of the oldest in the nation. It has a long and storied history in the annals of television journalism. Its leading voices and anchors have included legends like two-time Peabody Award winner Bill Monroe (who later hosted “Meet the Press” on NBC), fellow Peabody Award winner Jerry Romig (who went on to become the “Voice of the Saints” in the Superdome) and Nash Roberts (arguably one of the most influential local weathermen in U.S. history) as well as stellar news anchors like Charles Zewe and Norman Robinson. Zewe and Robinson moderated many candidate debates over the years and distinguished themselves by putting politicians on the spot (or, as Robinson used to say, “on the hot seat”) — and by never allowing them to dodge questions.
Given my personal history with WDSU and my appreciation of its unique role in our state, I was stunned when I watched a video of the station’s recent gubernatorial debate.
WDSU news anchor Scott Walker dishonored his predecessors by moderating what can only be described as a disgraceful debate. Walker opened with a question about County Clerk Kim Davis, of Morehead, Kentucky, who denied gay couples marriage licenses — an “issue” that already has been resolved … in Kentucky. Candidates also were asked if they belong to any gun rights organizations or shooting clubs, as if that somehow might make a difference in the lives of Louisiana’s children — or to the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana working people who have no health insurance coverage.
Surely there would be a focus on the candidates’ plans to fix the Bobby Jindal-created budget deficit? Well, only as an afterthought in a segment on the legalization of marijuana. Higher ed? Seems perfectly suited for a lightning round question.
According to a report in this newspaper, the news director was “satisfied with the questions asked by Walker, which he said had been devised by a team of five, including himself.”
Wow. Were the other three Curly, Larry and Moe?
Bob Mann, of the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU, termed the whole thing “journalistic malpractice.” Professor Mann is more temperate than I am; I thought it was a total abdication of journalistic duty.
If one of my students at Tulane wrote an exam with the same level of competence displayed on WDSU in conducting this debate, I would not only flunk that student, I would call his/her parents and inform them that their child is not only wasting his/her time, but also their money.
The fundamental truth about this governor’s race is that there’s only one question that needs to be answered: After young people in Louisiana today get married, regardless of their sexual orientation, given the plight of higher education, the state budget and our coastline, what would you do as governor to assure them that 25 years from now they’re not drowning in a gulf of ignorance, salt water and red ink?
Because as it stands now, unless we have strong leadership, we’re going to hit that disaster trifecta. Less than three weeks remain to get real answers from our candidates. Those answers won’t come unless we — and the stooges in our press corps — ask the right questions.
James Carville, a native of Carville, is a political consultant. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Juris Doctor from LSU and is currently a professor of practice at Tulane University.