Stuart Schwartz to look at influence of American Jews in the media during YJCC talk
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Stuart Schwartz to look at influence of American Jews in the media during YJCC talk

Yes, publisher Joseph Pulitzer – often called the father of modern journalism – was Jewish.

And yes, the Ochs and Sulzberger families – who have long controlled the influential New York Times – are Jewish as well.

But it is not true that Jews control the media, says Stuart Schwartz, a Montvale resident and 41-year veteran of ABC News.

“There are many very powerful Jews in media and entertainment, but it’s by no means monolithic,” he said. “Is there a Jewish voice? I would hope not,” he added, noting the exception of specifically Jewish media.

“In the mass media, the fact that you are Jewish should play a zero role in the way you report the news.”

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Stuart Schwartz says the history of American journalism has been enriched by the contribution of Jewish ‘pioneers.’

Schwartz – who will speak on this topic for Pascack Valley/Northern Valley Hadassah on Sept. 15 – is the former producer of “20/20″ and “Good Morning America,” among other shows. A 14-time Emmy winner, he teaches broadcasting at Montclair State University.

The newsman said he has often wondered why a large number of Jews have chosen to work in the media and entertainment. Maybe, he suggested, when blocked from other professions, they embraced those where they encountered less discrimination. Or, he said, “possibly they were drawn in because it is an intellectual exercise – it takes some smarts.”

Still, he noted, “the universe [of Jewish media professionals] is still tiny compared to the overall universe. It’s just that, as a Jew, your ears perk up when you hear a Jewish name.”

While he has worked throughout his career with people of all persuasions, he said, the canard that Jews control the media is understandable among those looking for a “convenient whipping boy.”

“The media is a very powerful tool,” he said. “Talk about having your hand on the tiller of mass communications. For those who would suggest that this tool is being manipulated by ‘a Jewish media,’ there is very little that would persuade them otherwise. [But] the idea that Jews in the media get together and have a common goal is ludicrous.”

Schwartz pointed out, however, that the history of American journalism has been enriched by the contribution of Jewish “pioneers” like Pulitzer, publisher of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York World, and David Sarnoff, founder of Radio Corporation of America, later NBC. Also of note was William Paley, “who came from a wealthy family that made cigars. He took the money and started CBS.”

“Pulitzer developed the first modern mass-circulation newspaper,” Schwartz said. “Others took it from there. That the Pulitzer Prize is named after him is testimony to his pioneering role.”

And The New York Times – “which has been in the hands of a Jewish family since its beginning” – has much to be proud of. “It’s quality journalism,” he said. “They report it as they see it.”

Schwartz said “the defining quality of good print journalism in this day and age is context and depth of reporting and analysis. You can’t get that in a 30-minute TV news program.”

“Lots of [media outlets] can just tell the facts,” said Schwartz, who, early in his career enjoyed a stint at The Wall Street Journal. “But it takes special reporting and reporters, commentators, and op-ed writers to dig down and get to the meaning.”

While television news reporting is often frustrating, given the lack of time available to present an issue, “the great thing is the immediacy of it; it brings events right to you.”

Cable TV programs have more flexibility, he said, but he is not happy with “what it has become, where you essentially have two of the major cable stations being partisan voices. CNN tries to stay neutral, but it is being overwhelmed by MSNBC and Fox.”

“News and journalism are at a crisis point,” he said. “The combination of fractured and expanding outlets for news, plus the addition of the huge recession – causing great losses in ad revenues – means that newspapers are hurting badly.” So is broadcasting, he said, pointing out that ABC News recently laid off a third of its staff.

“It was huge,” he said. “They’re faced with keeping up a quality product with fewer people.” And while “newspeople like to say they are pure and only care about the journalism [side] of what they do,” this has to be paid for. “They need a revenue stream.”

Schwartz said that while there is a long journalistic tradition of partisan commentary – evident in the op-ed columns of newspapers – what especially concerns him now is that “some of the culture of opinion seeps into the reporting” of cable shows billed as news programs.

However, he said, he believes the three major television networks are “absolutely making a good-faith effort to do honest reporting and maintain high standards.”

“No one can be purely objective,” he said. “But they’re trying to do a good job with fewer resources.”

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