At a time when some journalists might be mistaken for partisan apologists, it is refreshing to encounter a correspondent who abides by the ethical principles of the profession.
“There’s a strong ethical underpinning for what I do,” said Jim Axelrod, senior correspondent for CBS News, who will speak in Teaneck on September 20. At this year’s first general meeting of the Bergen County section of the National Council of Jewish Women, Mr. Axelrod — who reports for “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” and other CBS News broadcasts — will talk about “Politics and the Media: The Gap between Politicians and Real Leadership.”
“I’ve got a clear sense of what my job is, and I’m very comfortable working within the tradition of what it is to be a journalist,” Mr. Axelrod, who has covered a wide range of domestic and international issues said. “Our job is to shine a light, to illuminate.”
If that sounds a bit Jewish, that’s not accidental. Mr. Axelrod, who grew up in Highland Park, became bar mitzvah and was married by Rabbi Bennett Miller at New Brunswick’s Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, and now lives in Montclair, sees a clear link between his work and tikkun olam. “I’m a big believer that if you can illuminate something, you can fix the problem,” he said. “We illuminate situations and issues so we can see them and fix them.”
“I like any story that illuminates the connection between people and the responsibility we all have as parts of our various communities and the responsibility we have to one another,” he added. And he likes to “be able to tease out the enduring truth that we’re all much better when we’re connected.”
Mr. Axelrod has his own particular responsibilities.
“You have to be clear on what your job is,” he said. “I have an obligation to the 6 or 7 million people watching CBS News each night. I’m asking questions for them,” as well as for those who watch the news on Sunday morning. “There are millions of people who rely on us for information.”
Sometimes, his work takes him in directions he does not anticipate. “It happens all the time,” he said. “All you can do is follow the facts where they lead you, and not be too concerned about the consequences.”
His resume is impressive, if a bit daunting. “I cover everything from politics to sports, to culture,” he said. Recently, he went to Spain to report on Pau and Marc Gasol, “the best brothers in the NBA.” And the day we spoke he was in Miami, preparing a piece on singer Phil Collins. He also recently did a story on programs designed to help veterans who suffer from PTSD, “which is very important to me,” he said.
Fortunately, he finds his work “exhilarating.”
According to his profile on CBS.com, in 2003 Mr. Axelrod was the first television journalist to report live from Baghdad’s Saddam International Airport, immediately after it fell to U.S. troops. His live coverage of the U.S. Army firing artillery rounds into Iraqi positions was the first to be broadcast by a reporter embedded with ground troops engaged in combat in Iraq. He also covered the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq and was the last reporter to leave with the military in December 2011.
He has covered the American invasion of Afghanistan, the war and refugee crisis in the Balkans, and the hostage crisis in Peru. He also represented CBS News in 2010, when foreign reporters were invited to North Korea for a rare glimpse of that country’s leadership and culture.
This year, Mr. Axelrod won a George Polk Award for his investigative reporting on compounding pharmacy fraud. He also was a member of the team honored for its coverage of the manhunt and capture of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, and for a multiplatform series on the recession’s effects on children. From 2006 to 2009, Mr. Axelrod was CBS News’ chief White House correspondent.
The author of “In The Long Run: A Father, A Son, And Unintentional Lessons in Happiness,” published in 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Mr. Axelrod told a reporter at the time that people need to take stock of their lives — ask themselves important questions — to ensure their well-being. “You should always know why you are doing what you are doing,” he said.
Prompted in part to write the book by a life-threatening situation in Iraq, Mr. Axelrod said that his wife, Christine, was 7 l/2 months pregnant at the time. The child she was carrying, Bobby, now an eighth-grader, became a bar mitzvah in June at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield. The couple celebrated their 23rd wedding anniversary on September 11. They have two other children, 20-year-old Emma, a student at Brown University, and 18-year-old William, a freshman at Oberlin.
“I don’t like being away from home more than I have to,” said Mr. Axelrod, noting that he prefers domestic to international stories because “they’re more compatible with being a good husband and father.”
At his September 20 presentation — 49 days before the presidential election — Mr. Axelrod will “try to provide a road map for what to keep an eye on.” The election cycle “is full of all kinds of twists and turns,” he said, but definite patterns discerned so far can help us better understand what to expect. He hopes, he said, that people who attend “will walk out with a more refined sense of what will happen in this historic election.”
Who: CBS News senior correspondent Jim Axelrod
What: Will speak on “Politics and the Media”
When: On Tuesday, September 20, at 12:30 p.m.
Where: At Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck
Cost: Free for members, $10 for non-members
For more information on NCJW BCS and its upcoming programs, go to www.ncjwbcs.org.