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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.'"
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.