National Press Club

Timeless Journalism Values - what David Broder and Jim Lehrer have in common

Mark Hamrick | April 11, 2011

We live in interesting times, to say the least.

We've witnessed a rolling tide of revolution half a world away, made possible by social networking technology. At the core of that human mobilization is information.

The value of good, accurate information, the kind that journalists find and help provide, has also been underscored by other recent crises, including the horrifying disaster in Japan.

As the media landscape has become increasingly fractured, our National Press Club remains a constant. And as an institution, we stand strong in affirming press freedoms and core journalism values around the globe.

In that regard, I had the opportunity to speak with two of the late David Broder's sons as they prepared for a memorial service in our ballroom. They said their father had few dying requests. One of them was that the service be held at the National Press Club. It was that important to him. The service itself was quite moving, attended by many top names in journalism and the political world alike. Vice President Biden said of Broder that he cared about not only what he wrote of Biden, but also what he thought of Biden. During the speech, Biden spoke emotionally, uncharacteristically quietly, and in a remarkably personal way. I’ve seen a lot of speeches by politicians. I will never forget this one.

In subsequent days, The Washington Post's own ombudsman, in a tribute to Broder, referred to the NPC as a "shrine to the First Amendment".
We take that mission seriously.

That's why we're pleased to serve as host to World Press Freedom Day next month. It is the first time in the event's history that it is being held in the U.S. And it is being held in our facility.

Similarly, we're affirming those values as we prepare to hand the NPC's Fourth Estate Award to Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour in Oct. The values that both Broder and Lehrer have embodied are timeless and necessary for the health of our democracy and for the effective functioning of governments everywhere. Broder won the same award in 1988.

In 2009, Lehrer who has been called the "dean" of presidential debate moderators spelled out some rules of what he called "MacNeil/Lehrer journalism". They are worth repeating:

  • Do nothing I cannot defend.
  • Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  • Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am.
  • Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  • Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
  • Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.
  • Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions.
  • No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  • And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Working journalists, whether writers, or managing editors, should remember values like those put into practice by David Broder and Jim Lehrer. We can also celebrate them at the NPC's Fourth Estate Award dinner later this year. I hope you can join us.