T Nation

No Way! Not Fox News!

File this information under DUH!


Bloomington native reports the news

by Mike Leonard
Hoosier Times columnist
October 2, 2005

David Shuster has spent most of the past month covering hurricanes Katrina and Rita. And the Bloomington native and television correspondent admits he’s really not that fond of catastrophe reporting.

“I’d rather get slugged by an angry politician than hit over the head with a piece of flying debris,” he said from Washington, D.C., last Friday. “I’m a wimp when it comes to that kind of stuff.”

The NBC and MSNBC reporter did appreciate being pulled off the Hurricane Rita story to hustle over to Sugarland, Texas, to cover the grand jury indictment of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. “That’s what I feel most comfortable with,” he explained, “the political corruption sort of story.”

Covering the Whitewater investigation of President Clinton for Fox News gave the Bloomington South graduate his first big exposure as a national television correspondent. He currently works on MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” program and said he thoroughly enjoys spending most of his time in the nation’s capital and reporting for what he considers “the show of record when it comes to coverage of Washington.”

Shuster will return to Bloomington this week to speak on the topic, “TV News Rediscovers Its Critical Voice: A Look at the Way That Coverage of the Bush Administration Has Changed Since 9/11.” The talk will begin at 4 p.m. Thursday in the atrium of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs on the Indiana University campus.

The University of Michigan graduate said the gist of his address will focus on how the changing mood of the country has driven news coverage to be more critical of the administration. “I don’t want to say the media always follow the weather vane of public opinion, but in any administration there is an accumulative effect and the particular circumstances of the past five years have driven the media to examine issues more critically than was the case early on,” he said.

When asked whether he would have had that opportunity while working at Fox, Shuster laughed, remained silent for a pregnant pause and said, “No. The answer is no.”

He went on to recount his six-year tenure at Fox. “At the time I started at Fox, I thought, this is a great news organization to let me be very aggressive with a sitting president of the United States (Bill Clinton),” Shuster said. "I started having issues when others in the organization would take my carefully scripted and nuanced reporting and pull out bits and pieces to support their agenda on their shows.

“With the change of administration in Washington, I wanted to do the same kind of reporting, holding the (Bush) administration accountable, and that was not something that Fox was interested in doing,” he said.

“Editorially, I had issues with story selection,” Shuster went on. “But the bigger issue was that there wasn’t a tradition or track record of honoring journalistic integrity. I found some reporters at Fox would cut corners or steal information from other sources or in some cases, just make things up. Management would either look the other way or just wouldn’t care to take a closer look. I had serious issues with that.”

The Bloomington native encountered a markedly different culture when he jumped to NBC/MSNBC in June 2002. “One of the first things that happens is you’re given a 50-page manual of standards and practices ? and you immediately sense this is an organization that cares very deeply about journalistic integrity.”

Despite the sometimes abrasive tone of program host Chris Matthews, Shuster said he greatly respects the former print columnist’s devotion to accuracy and detail. “He doesn’t just ask tough questions on the air. He asks every person on the staff tough questions, and if there is a hole in your reporting or research, he finds it,” he said.

Would the former Bloomingtonian like to sit in Matthews’ chair some day? “I’m only 38 years old, and it’s not something I’m focusing on right now, but I’m sure that some day, NBC will see, in their wisdom, such a place for David Shuster,” he said with a laugh.

He acknowledged that likely never would have happened at Fox, a network that neither his father, Arnold Shuster, nor his mother, Susan Klein, supported. “My parents always wondered why it took me so long to get out of there,” he said. “I wonder, too.”

Let’s repeat a key paragraph from his interview:

“With the change of administration in Washington, I wanted to do the same kind of reporting, holding the (Bush) administration accountable, and that was not something that Fox was interested in doing,” he said.

Does this surprise anyone? If it does, I would be surprised. Can we say Partisan agenda?