Last week, the news profession lost three of its leading lights -- Bob Simon and David Carr to sudden and unexpected death and Brian Williams to a six-month suspension. In our shock and sadness we are drawn to ask ourselves some serious questions about the state of the news media today.
How could one of the most trusted men in the country have lost his position so abruptly and ignominiously? Where can we turn for great foreign reporting when we've lost someone with the stature and experience of Bob Simon, who spent much of his life covering wars and conflict so powerfully from around the globe? Will we ever find another observer as thoughtful and piercing and honest as David Carr to point out our foibles and give us some perspective on where we are and where we're going?
If that weren't enough, Jon Stewart announced he'd be leaving the Daily Show later this year. Stewart has always insisted that what he does isn't "news". But he's pointed out uncomfortable truths and held those in power to account the way great news reporting does. And he always seems motivated first and foremost, not by delight in tearing news organizations down, but by an urge to prod us to do better, showing us all the potential we aren't realizing.
There's a lot to ponder, but among all the doubting and questioning, we must not lose sight of the strong, dedicated people still among us who try their best, day in and day out, to learn as much of the truth as they can and then tell it to us in ways that make us pay attention. Sure, reporters and anchors are people, and people always disappoint. No matter how high our aspirations, we sometimes fall short. We all make mistakes, and some of them we make out in public for all to see. Some reflect badly on our entire profession.
But it seems to be a sad trait of humans that we focus on the shortcomings of those who are still with us and don't recognize the strengths -- even towering strengths -- of others until they are gone. Bob Simon was a wonderfully gifted and dedicated foreign reporter. No one liked to compete against him. He went to the most dangerous trouble spots, always finding the best stories and always finding ways to tell them to leave impressions that stayed with us long after the world's attention had otherwise moved on.
David Carr time and again saw the complexity of the news business with a clear and penetrating eye, drawing the connections and contrasts that we might dimly sense, but could not put our finger on until David guided it there. Ironically, he had done just that earlier in the very week that he died when he wrote truthfully and authentically about Brian Williams and some of the forces that came to play in his downfall.
The question is whether we can resist that inevitable pull only to criticize the living and leave until too late the need to recognize the strengths of those doing great work every day. There are reporters in the field now who, though different from Bob, share his dedication to reporting -- including foreign reporting; who are experienced and talented and do outstanding work even in our changed media world. Martha Raddatz at ABC News; Clarissa Ward at CBS News; Richard Engle at NBC News; Christiane Amanpour at CNN; and more than a few others. Their work holds out great hope for the future of journalism in the face of changing business models and the rambunctious spread of information and misinformation in the world of social media.
They will succeed only if we reward them with our attention. We need to recognize their work now, when they're still with us, so that they can continue to do what they do best and, in doing so, encourage others to come behind them.
This would be a worthy legacy for the likes of Bob Simon and David Carr. And we'd all share in the fruits of that legacy.