The president of CBS News defended his network's coverage of this year's extraordinary presidential race during a luncheon in New Orleans on Wednesday and said journalists must recommit themselves to shoe-leather reporting in an era when fake news stories have proliferated online.
Speaking at an annual gathering hosted by the Bureau of Governmental Research, David Rhodes acknowledged that trust in the news media has reached a low ebb, but he blamed that in part on the tendency of online news consumers to seek out only information and opinions they already agree with.
“This is why I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that we’re unpopular,” Rhodes said. “Our job is to be skeptical, to ask questions that might be uncomfortable.”
During his speech, which drew hundreds of BGR supporters and sponsors to the New Orleans Marriott Hotel, Rhodes touted "CBS This Morning," the network's two-hour morning news show that will start running on WWL-TV this month.
He pushed back during an extended question-and-answer period against arguments of media bias or manipulation, particularly in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as president.
“I think it’s hard to make the case that people didn’t have the information they needed,” Rhodes said in response to questions about the network’s coverage.
“Sometimes when people don’t like the outcome of a situation they want to assign that blame somewhere,” Rhodes said of claims that Trump had been able to manipulate the national media. “I think just in my experience we’re not that powerful.”
Rhodes focused on the importance of on-the-ground reporting, whether in the United States or abroad, as opposed to the cheaper and safer option of talking heads debating politics and policy.
“What we do is expensive,” he said, contrasting it with debate-style news. “Talk is cheap, so people produce a lot of talk.”
The organization also elected seven new board members at the event: Andrea Chen, the executive director of Propeller; Louis M. Freeman Jr., CEO of Innovation Catalyst; Alex Gershanik, president of The Power Courses; Andrew Lee, a partner at Jones Walker; Jennifer Neil, the general counsel at POOLCORP; Slade Simons, executive vice president of Gulf Coast Wealth Management; and Larry Washington, president of Junior Achievement of Greater New Orleans Inc.
Hardy Fowler, a retired partner at KPMG LLC, was elected chairman of the board. Ludovico Feoli, the executive director for the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University, was elected vice chairman.
In addition, Storey Charbonnet, a partner at Johnson Rice & Co. LLC, was elected secretary. Norma Grace, the retired vice chancellor for technology and economic development at the University of New Orleans, was elected treasurer. Nathalie G. Simon, special assistant to the CEO and president for public policy initiatives at Laitram LLC, was elected assistant secretary, and Todd McDonald, a vice president at Liberty Bank and Trust Co., was elected assistant treasurer.