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and they said well come to the fine print wpln program about all things british i'm rebecca bain i've long been an admirer of robert macneil who until his retirement three years ago was co anchor of pbs is the macneil lehrer newshour so when i heard he had written a novel about the network news business i couldn't wait to read it and i wasn't disappointed in fact it reminded me of the battle between substance abuse reporting and getting the best ratings have been going on for a long time in nineteen eighty seven dedicated tv news producer played by holly hunter has fallen for tom the gorgeous but shallow anchorman played by william hurt her best friend to dedicate a reporter played by albert brooks is outraged that passion could win out over
principles tom helping offering the east ms kriz no i'm semi serious fear factor for the good job or influence is a great god fearing nation no matter what people think will ever deliberately hurt a living thing but us bit by little bit lower our standards whether or just a tiny little bit just called so long flat over substance just a tiny little bit i don't talk about us really be a salesman he personifies everything to keep fighting against breaking news robert macneil his latest novel
anchorman grant monroe is at the pinnacle of a brilliant career however he is beset on all fronts by competition from less experienced but much younger anchorman by the network's insatiable quest for the best ratings and by the increasingly tabloid nature of television then i couldn't help but wonder if robert macneil had fired some of the same battles himself in his years at pbs where each true we haven't have to be aware of the number of people come and watch the program because they didn't come you would never program but we're not in the game that greg monroe and people aren't commercial television are having to women and time period it's such a month since then when you come to think of it and it's becoming increasingly nonsensical as the audience splinters name or more channels and everybody's going for niche programming but they'll grow up in the days when there were only three jailed for four channels in each city and they were
used to mass audience television and because of all the pressures of advertising agencies in a way these things are counted and calculated winning the time period remains the game in network television you have all these new sitcoms that are produced every year at great expense and to put on with a hurricane of publicity nationally and they go on one or two weeks and if they don't either win or do very well and threaten to win soon and that i read it off again and you know maybe several million dollars going down the drain and maybe they're quite good and i know some people in the business it's a poker game for them every year even though they have done some of the programs that are cultural icons these days this absurdity of having to when the locals on top know is not on top brothers on top is coming up again and it's a difference often you know or maybe half a million people maybe a million people something like that and it's nothing to do with the actual quality of the journalism that's being done because there isn't a huge amount to choose between those three network programs but the
anxieties not to say his stereo and irrationality that this kind of competition induces among rational intelligent people is what i was hoping to get out a bit in my book in my book it makes an otherwise totally balanced and same individual with a great career behind him his grammar was about to be sixty years old so irrational that he considers having a facelift which i consider an absurdity but his guns just tipped over into irrationality which of course have just lots of people were about to be sixteen begin to get anxious regular competition and now i'm sitting here smiling isn't thinking minutes sixty women at forty six am thinking in the mirror and they can see the beauty of themselves and their who is in her forties into literature that that's where he first hears the word facelift and then he begins hearing it more and more of us should she become a college president or
should she get the facelift and continue in her career and the reasons for balancing these things are very very different speaking of balancing things you did a terrific job and here these are things grant looks at on the one hand you have the reason that we go into this business because we believe that people have the right to know when we want to bring the people the truth about what's happening in the world around them but the flipside of their nose as a quote from the book a few years ago it would have been shocking to mark the business so openly trivialize it and reduce it to cheap entertainment but now that seemed to be the game everyone play here some of the reviews of this book so for eminem nice and have described it and maybe the publishers a bit guilty to because i'm a jacket it's described as a kind of blistering attack on that you think actually my intention was to ride a sympathetic portrait of the dilemma these people are and in particular wannabe anchorman and all points of view are given in that book he stands for one thing but the people who are opposing him because they
feel they have to make a program in its ear and more popular and go after the trashy stories they're given plenty of opportunity to explain their point of you too and why the businesses that were abused we even have grant maker news decision there's an opportunity to interview an actor he's been charged with the murder of a small child and graham says no we're not going to interview this man this is not news this is wrong this is sensationalism and a day later he realizes now actually this is news but it's tough things day after he sees in india another of his agamemnon is executive uses as if we don't grab it one of the other networks is gonna grab an immediate and they'll do it and in fact that's what happens the anchorman known as grecian formula and then the next day it appears on the front page of the new york times and grandsons was looked at and i turned on its news and she says its news because it's in the new york times and the newspaper isn't up a new even great newspapers are not immune to this
kind of competition during the oj simpson case you saw not only network television sat down into that tabloid vortex newspapers you never would have expected quoting the national enquirer it is a sad scene but people in that scene are doing their best to resist the question the book raises is can they resist if this generation of anchorman cause the rather's the jennings who were either about to be sixteen jennings case or into their sixties the case of the other clearly within a few years that generations can you move on and will be replaced by a number one so we have a turning of the tide coming up here what will the new tried the new generation tried bringing in terms of dedication to the old standards of journalism and how much further will it just by its nature because of the training or lack of training and they've had what values were laboring for instance there's a young competitor governors in my book example donovan is in his early thirties has become the white house correspondents
become one of cars went straight out on a local job in atlanta and not uncovered a presidential campaign is put into the white house and in the contract that got in there there's a promise that he will get an anchor job soon grant says when i was that age my heroes were the correspondents in the field those are the people i wanted to emulate the great foreign correspondents on the political correspondents i never even dreamed of being an anchor person because that was so far out there and the agency's yeah the kids nowadays come straight of school wanting to be anchors and the business lets them that's the point there are so many outlets now between cable and local news and many many channels they can become anchors a young person with very slim credentials provided they are personable and good looking and glib can become an anchor there was the notorious storied fifteen years ago just the savage which is mentioned in the book is a kind of cautionary tale here is a beautiful young woman who was very sharp
and had had several local anchor jobs weather girl and several are applying for jobs and then nbc picked her up and made her a network correspondent because she had that ability on the air she blossomed sheila bennett the party should just turned on on here and they thought an nbc that they could convert that magic into a magic network host and prison correspondent and it blew up on them because she didn't have a grounding in the business she'd become a star on local star because of that glamour but i know people who worked with her said she couldn't read a story she couldn't shape or produce a story so to every job to do they immediately porter owners the nbc correspondent covering the senate and she was last there and then they put her on the air during election coverage night or during the convention's and it was pathetic and then that produced a lot of attention she ended up on coke and she ended up drowning in an unfortunate accident and there's a rather cynical line and my thing was that when i was thinking about this so you put some young person on
they embarrassed to bad stories for a day or so who gets hurt in the end nobody really gets hurt it goes on who got hurt and savage she did so and i think we're at it whereas the generational moment when there is real tension and i sympathize this is not an attack on jennings and rather regret they sympathize and empathize with the situation they're in some call this an attack on the you know on them directly but they said you know in that sort of shorthand about the book i think is that it's this attack only the state of television news today it's interesting tale really think of it as being an attack as this is awaiting to the best of my knowledge and imagination it's the word is you know other people have ridiculed these anchors very successful in the popular culture from network and from broadcast news and they were brilliant centers osmosis i didn't set out to do that as an artist and to crawl inside their skin in their psyches one of the great things for people who read breaking news is these are issues to sing very
close to me things that i think about the my colleagues think about but sometimes you have to step back and go yes but what is this person thinking about someone whose life is not connected with the media someone who doesn't come in every day and think about these issues and have these things in front of them and this i think does give people something that they need to think about and what they are watching this is the difference here would do this kind of thing in fiction my first book which was thirty years ago this month people machine or director been on nbc for seven years was a critique of what i saw as the shortcomings for the nightly news broadcast them because i thought they were wonderful that they greased so quickly i saw them over the surface of the years they're now models of dignity and seriousness compared to where it's gone in the thirty years since and in the thirty years since i became as much of a critic as a practitioner of the business in hours get up at various kinds of things and make boring
speeches criticizing this or that memory paying attention so you never had an impact on the business of another motive in this pub the anchorman is a really interesting phenomenon of our time our culture could only do one little paragraph one of the devices are having this book is that to get that grant winner the hero for many different points or do i have a time magazine writer doing a cover on him a profile and this guy comes to it with a lot of prejudice you think oh my god they're just learning the overpaid mannequins what you wanna do it why should i pay attention and as he gets to know grab monroe he's drawn in and it begins to discover why this menace as successful but as he thinks about it or watch as much deliberation and he thinks in the history of western culture has there ever been anything like it these figures to whom all defer to my mit the moment of them feel i must confess or appear to confess tv hosts usurp many traditional roles confessors inquisitors prosecutors therapist's the briefers moderators the voice of fate and sophocles cars or pert
impertinent fools and shakespeare exorcism inquisition the accusers in salem the inquisitor industrious good as well as the falling courtiers of the sun king or the unix of the great kind of letters and tortillas or tycoons and politicians extraordinary the television has created an entire profession of intermediaries then he goes on to say how horrible these people are likely to be in the ancient fertility rites they can be hugely celebrated an enraged i'm flattered and catered to and an astronomer saw that she had that is part of my motive and i wanted to do this for years i've proposed a long magazine article about twenty years ago on this really look at this i started to write a play about it about ten years ago and it stayed with me as wanting to train examine this strange phenomena and what it's like to be one of those people i mean they are like hollywood movie stars there almost as well paid his hollywood movie stars but more consistently and more
intimately than hollywood movie stars there are in our homes every night every night year after year after year and people developed an extraordinary sense of intimacy with these people they are catered to end deferred to by their own colleagues and by the world at large and there's certain symbolic incidents in my book which illustrates that i have to interject here though and i hope you don't mind but i watched you every night night after night week after week month after month year after year you are one of those people to me you are someone i looked to to tell me that they used to be my intermediary to help me understand the events that i know i know because you with pbs you didn't get paid what tom brokaw back pain but why do you not include yourself perhaps i should accept that i've always thought of myself as on a different plane from these guys need to succeed in that kind of competition where i don't think i ever would've succeeded to that level because i didn't think i had the
personality that tell a visual personality whatever it is the show business only to make it work on that level i don't think i ever would've become one of those guys and a successful is there and my talents drug always thought of myself as being different from them and also because i never really wanted it and how kind of happened today i accidentally somewhat more detached but of course inevitably there's some of me in grant grove i mean i'm not only career points that coincide but where does he get always attitudes from about the business so there is something a billionaire but he's not making is not by a our conversation with robert mcneil will again after this brief time out i hope you can continue to check out the fine portions of the fine print or made possible in part with funds provided by helen called her aunt jane smith and sharon langford and associates entrusted to sell the most cherished homes in the nashville area three a three sixty six
i think the use of christopher seaford as just brilliant yellows the time magazine writer he takes our role the reader's really allows us to come in and this skeptical oh yes definitely jealous what did what this man has a look at how people kowtow to derose going after the same age and he looks ten years younger than christopher saver but yes but he is slowly seduced by grant monroe as we are two we find ourselves really liking this man but when none of his grants wife raises some questions even if basically you're a decent person you know you want to do the right thing what must a duty psychologically to be deferred to day after day after day to get this adulation to know that every time you walk into a restaurant all eyes are on you they're not on the network
president sitting across from either man ostensibly with a power they're on you you are the focus of all this concentrated adoration and has to change but i'm actually curious about i'd had only a tiny taste of that compared to these people a good example of why i believe that a few years ago my wife and i were invited by some newspaper prensa libre to go to the kentucky derby and stay for the weekend and cronkite twitter and on the conference for years delightful menu the lovely blurb on the back of his book and we went down into the paddock at one point between races walter was walking ahead of me there are two wives were together and it behind them with our hosts and i watched the crowds turn and recognize walter cronkite and it was it was like moises going through the red sea was really extraordinary this was a huge icon of american life going through and i could see them they would their eyes would come back and they're as a passer mean one or two people
may recognize me but nothing like that i noticed the same thing that i'm very friendly with morley safer and we go out together and i notice that the eu will attract infinitely more attention because the program sixty minutes that he is out and get twenty thirty million viewers a night we never had more than three four years and it's that difference which is really what i'm getting that we've enjoyed one for careers in public television jim lehrer now deserves and is widely recognized in its probably inherited <unk> rights mantle as the most trusted man in america but it's nothing like the scale that it is for network television and i agree with you and that's what my speculation is what must it be like to have all this and there's an incident i will not give away because i think it's important to the story of breaking is that there is an instance where a grant doesn't get is why things don't go for him the way they always have easily is literally a life and death year and ends and a woman talking afterwards about it is a mountain climber and he goes
out with a professional climber and the weather changes and his friend the professional climber dies ground survives because grant insisted i'm going to then when it was a little early in the season and that god was dubious but any regrets or will we get a helicopter and get in one another and the widow says other climbers says afterwards you know graham is one of those people who feels he can do anything when he wants they can buy anything and they want everything can be arranged for them when they want it and i think that is probably one of the consequences of that kind of stardom and entitlement and when we read about it all the time in much more extreme cases and a hollywood star's it doesn't matter for hollywood star is a flake or is an egomaniac or is so in love with himself is a monster to everybody else's was heaped on screen does it supposed to do an element that's find these guys at the network subjected to much of the same kind of
adulation ended and sense of entitlement have to keep their feet on the ground they have to be saying they have to be rational and they have to keep some sense of the real world i think it's amazing that they do it as well as they do and that's one of my motives you have a character in here holly go holly go has a web site with all the insider information and what's going on at the networks are again an absolutely hilarious counterpoint to the seriousness of what is happening day by day for granted is highly goes commentary on this i have to wonder is that web site out there funnily enough i just wearing the other day somebody sent me a copy of our current media and in august some in cleveland started a website called muse blues get started everybody uses dot com and people from different television newsrooms at the local level in that area and may be others arguing on exactly what the people do on my web site and my and i know when the miners are there was written in january
ninety seven and i hope this is life imitating art i don't i don't know whether the people started it had gotten any word of my book as the public was circulated in the industry that improve copies but i think is delightful and almost given the internet it was inevitable it doesn't eleni and given the anonymity of the internet and its clearly in my novel somebody and one of the network news rooms but you don't find out until a very intuitive as and the person is masquerading under this persona all say they can deliver anything they wanted labor in terms of satire criticisms you were outraged and we know that exists in the garbage and moaning all the time about their spots or that anger or this you know he's she says things i can foresee ms claire all over the koch network worries are caught in the ladies room with a copy of bartlett's familiar quotations social have so much and he has the drop into the intellectual
chat over their you know well i know that happened i know you had a great time and love which being highly doubt we're going to tell you this is good technical reason behind this any novel you start presents challenges craft challenges common to solve this problem i started writing this four hundred pages in longhand all from grant's first person to try and get inside the character than most of that got thrown away some of that survives in his talk to the time magazine but i wanted to get the fire that's within the time magazine thinking which gives two parallel strands where i read novels and when they take sort of iconic institutions like the columbia broadcasting system and they despise them as the consolidated broadcasting system and never believe it not satisfying to me i decided to take the risk of doing only nicknames no network is named and nobody outside ground monroe and his immediate circle is named they're all nicknamed and so i needed a vehicle for the nicknames and this whole ago character came out too she calls the net works tope beige
and biscay which is an expression all of the content of that person for the alleged differences between the networks and she calls grant winner gregory peck and another wind grecian formula in another one the lone ranger she grows some white house correspondents an accent ring headed nutcracker suite for as yet i have a lot of up and then of course one of our favorites because you certainly made or that kind of woman we could love decade and that's and mara better known by holly go as brenda stone is going to start right let's talk about that character so yeah so i think the consolidation of some of the people that we're seeing taking over the quote news and quote industry you know it's not a deliberate consolidation i didn't pick from column a column b and come up with a composite character it just grew some rigorous decided i didn't up your portable <unk> respect to a lot and we were college years ago
of nbc it isn't fill out of the late barbara walters would be the last person i would have answered to maybe the beeper reviewing the broken watch an image television but anyway yeah i agree it is a person who is if not typical is sort of arch it's typical or archetype a lot of these people and one of the themes in the book as you alluded to is that these magazines which are proliferating on the network's news magazines because they're very profitable for almost always five of the top ten rated programs of the week and the network's own lemon a lot cheaper to produce and sitcoms and they produce more reliable audience dateline on nbc has been stripped virtually across the week now twenty twenty is unsettling on abc soap it's imagined in my book that as the ratings for standard news programs the road but the network will bring in a magazine programme five nights a week and put a little hard news top on it and let the
traditional news program with in a way i don't view that possibility was i'm annoyed bleak let's help listeners here understand why you don't because i know there are people out there listening right now that's i will what's the matter with that i would rather watch dateline nbc or sixty minutes then watch these sixty minutes is a little bit different yeah sixty minutes is the oldest and as the character says and my book your character says it sticks to its last sixty minutes doesn't pander in the same ways these others do they're very much driven by what they know the mass audience likes best the celebrity interviews the kind of my she's sentimental tabloid stories the feel good stories the expos a is all consumers swindling or something or other that could go i'm exposed in the nation wouldn't fall apart not that it's totally armed or worthless dirt roads the things they surround themselves with an aura of you know hard hitting investigative reporting and have hidden
cameras was going on which i think is a lot of nonsense and they don't take on they never do for sixty minutes they never do stories abroad because they've discovered from our audience research american public has nixed wouldn't stars so it's not that the information they probably is unreliable i don't say that but that they surround themselves with the kind of tabloid low down the market or a lot of drama hi aig it's just a shame to see that product becoming some bigger part of what the network news departments to attend a wonderful example time magazine and cnn formed a partnership to do a documentary series on cnn and they launched it with enormous fanfare remember this is going to be the neatest thing since sliced bread and the first one they did was this allegation that during the vietnam war american forces had both used nerve gas lethal nerve gas and
had killed americans who had allegedly defected to the other side these are two extraordinary charges against the us government that would require the greatest care improving the reporting this thing and as we know now from all of the scandal came after it that this road on the air it never would've got further than the first cut in our news department and i think in most you as you were charging us government with what was a war crime which as far as we know since the first world war maybe with a couple of exceptions has not been used except by saddam hussein and those crazies in japan isn't a monstrous charge against the us government but also that it would deliberately go in and murder knowingly murder american citizens because it is in the defective incredible charges and to throw that amir so casually with all white and all the liquid us were going to be not hard with him you know and all of this and i think it's just an illustrative of the kind of competition and the things responsible people will do feeling they need to do
in that competitive atmosphere that was robert macneil whose latest novel is titled breaking news and that concludes our program through this week i hope you enjoyed it and i hope you will join me again next week and once again we'll check out the fine print for nashville public radio ad it's been
The Fine Print
Program 99 14 Guest Robert MacNeil Book Breaking News
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An episode of WPLN's The Fine Print featuring host Rebecca Bain discussing an author's work with the author.
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Guest: MacNeil, Robert
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Chicago: “The Fine Print; Program 99 14 Guest Robert MacNeil Book Breaking News,” 1999-04-03, WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 3, 2023,
MLA: “The Fine Print; Program 99 14 Guest Robert MacNeil Book Breaking News.” 1999-04-03. WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 3, 2023. <>.
APA: The Fine Print; Program 99 14 Guest Robert MacNeil Book Breaking News. Boston, MA: WPLN News/Nashville Public Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from