Veteran TV reporter
Bell shares experiences

 

Steve Bell, an Emmy-winning reporter and anchor for ABC who is now a professor of telecommunications at Ball State University, was a special guest at Elon Feb. 25-27.

Bell visited with students in formal and informal settings and gave two major public talks in Whitley Auditorium: "The Media and Politics: Direct Observations from a Career of Covering National Politics for ABC News," and "The Media and the Military: From Vietnam to Iraq II." He used video clips to illustrate his points in these appearances.

Bell said in his "Media and Politics" speech that the evolution of media in a digital world has changed the rules for political parties and candidates in America.

"As the electronic media has become dominant, it has changed the political process," he said. "It has diluted the power of the political establishment. If you have media and money, you are no longer beholden to the president, Congress," and other traditional forces in the battle for airtime.

He said the explosion of new outlets for political information - talk shows, late-night comedy and the internet - have also diluted the gatekeeper function of the media establishment. "Today, anyone can put a story into play," Bell said. "Candidates have learned they can bypass the traditional denizens of broadcast; you don't have to go through Russert or by way of the other Sunday shows" to convey a message.

Bell, who covered both domestic and international stories for ABC from 1967-1986, showed video clips to illustrate the changing landscape of political coverage. Bill Clinton's 1992 appearances on the "Phil Donahue Show" and the "Arsenio Hall Show" demonstrated unprecedented media savvy, Bell said.

"(Clinton), more than any other modern politician, had an outstanding grasp on how to use the media," he explained. On liberal host Donahue's show, Clinton was given the time to fully develop his answers and give his answers to the allegations of infidelity made by Gennifer Flowers. When he played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall's late-night show, Clinton targeted the potential of voters in the 18-29 age group. By the 2000 election, with politicians following Clinton's lead, Bell said the theme was, "Image is everything - politics meets pop culture."

Bell said in 2004 alternative forms of media, such as Web-based newsletters like the Drudge Report, are putting unsubstantiated rumors out as public information.

"With the Web playing the role it does now, we'll see new vistas open," he said. "All of the pressure is toward throwing away the gate. All of the pressure is toward pulling the media to the lowest common denominator. Media is constantly under pressure to go with the story even if the story is coming from Matt Drudge."

He pointed to the major networks' reluctance to go forward with rumors about an alleged affair involving John Kerry and an intern as proof that networks and major newspapers know they walk a fine line between breaking stories and airing falsehoods. Still, the rumor came out on TV and radio news programs, as anchors and hosts discussed the controversy over Drudge's printing of the rumor.

"Most mainstream media stayed away," Bell said, because the report named no sources. "It's a tremendous example of a story that's out there, and the mainstream media just wants to say 'no.'"

During his stay at Elon, Bell was a guest in Tom Nelson's Broadcast Journalism class and in Connie Book's Broadcasting in the Public Interest class. He visited with students in a number of other settings. He was the special guest at a luncheon with School of Communications administrators and faculty members, and he was also the headline attraction at a Media Board dinner for student media leaders. Communications and political science major Dan Hanson was Bell's student host over the course of the visit.

Bell is best known as a former host of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" and for his coverage of national and international politics from 1967 through the 1980s. He covered social upheavals then reshaping the nation, including the Newark and East Harlem riots, anti-war protests in Washington and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was on the scene when Sen. Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968. He reported extensively from Vietnam and Indochina, and he and his camera crew were captured for a short time by the Viet Cong in Cambodia in 1970. In 1985, on the 10th anniversary of the end of the war, Bell filed the first live satellite report from Vietnam.

Bell was ABC bureau chief in Hong Kong in 1972, and he spent two months reporting from the People's Republic of China in 1973, when he and Ted Koppel wrote and co-anchored a China documentary. He served as a White House correspondent during the Watergate investigation and covered the Ford Administration.

He is the recipient of several Emmy Awards, an Overseas Press Club Award and a Headliners Award. Since 1998, he has directed seminars in Politics and the Media for the Washington Center, and he is endowed chair emeritus in telecommunications at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

 

 

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Last Modified:  2/27/04
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