‘Morning Edition’ host spreads acerbic wit


CONWAY — Religion, professional ethics, moral responsibilities and global consciousness were all topics recently discussed by National Public Radio host Bob Edwards at a Coastal Carolina University presentation in mid-February.

Don’t worry about the threat of war from the looming military conflict in Iraq, NPR’s serene “Morning Edition” host, Edwards, a Catholic newsman, told his audience Feb. 18.

Edwards spoke as part of the Kimbel Distinguished Lecturer Series at the school. The program’s purpose is to present events promoting an appreciation for “the intellectual values in broad social issues, religion, geopolitics and the arts.”

He was asked what he thought the best case scenario for war would be in Iraq, where the threat of conflict looms.

“I would hope none,” Edwards said. “You have nothing to worry about. We have other things to worry about. Worry about President Clinton.”

He said the greatest danger in Iraq is what would happen if weapons facilities are bombed.

Edwards joined NPR in 1974 and was co-host of the evening news magazine “All Things Considered,” until 1979, when “Morning Edition” premiered. As its host, he has conducted more than 800 interviews a year on topics including politics, international affairs, education, labor, economics, sports, the arts and entertainment.

The program has an audience of more than 7.5 million listeners.

In 1990, Edwards won two Gabriel Awards from UNDA, an association of Catholic broadcasters, for “Born Drunk,” a five-part “Morning Edition” series, and “Bill of Sale: A Black Heritage,” about the owner of a museum displaying exhibits of his own relatives.

Edwards said of the awards, which are in the form of an angel: “They’re great. I have them in my office watching over me.”

In 1995, he won the prestigious Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for excellence in radio journalism for his reporting on the elections in South Africa.

Edwards said polls don’t mean much to him, but he treats them as guideposts. “I don’t put it down, and I don’t take it as Bible either,” he said. “I hope we’re not guided by polls. It’s just another tool to gauge public opinion. I don’t think you abandon your responsibility based on what you hear at the polls.”

Lambasting radio shock jock Howard Stern to applause in his presentation, Edwards pointed to General Electric’s hiring of new million-dollar NBC employee Geraldo Rivera.

“Journalism is not widely respected today. And maybe it doesn’t deserve it. Much of journalism has forgotten what it is supposed to be. Journalism changed from being a public service to being a business that could no longer afford high-minded principles,” he said. “The networks have been taken over by big corporations whose primary business is not broadcasting. Their executives care more for the bottom line than the quality of their news programs. Money-making ball games and soap operas are considered more important than politics and breaking news stories.”

Opinion polls show reporters at the bottom of the heap, Edwards said, adding that those in his profession are pilloried on TV shows and in movies.

“How does that happen? What is it about journalists that makes mothers pull their children closer to their skirts?” he asked. “I don’t believe they know what a news program is anymore. I’m not sure that people in the TV news can tell you what a news program is. Is ‘Hard Copy’ a news program? It’s certainly made to look like one … the networks have shut down most of the overseas bureaus that they once had.”

Edwards also asked, “Who is a journalist these days? On the Internet, everyone’s a journalist, and there is no editor to keep you from passing out your opinions as fact. The Internet offers no wisdom, no judgment, no insight. The Internet offers all data, and all data, right or wrong, carries equal weight on the Internet.”

In addition, the commentator discussed some well-known personalities in broadcasting. “Don Imus and Larry King interview politicians. Does that make them journalists? Is George Stephanapolis a journalist? He’s a big presence on an ABC news program. John McLaughlin invented the ‘shout show.’ It sounds more like drunks in a bar to me.”

Elaborating on that theme, Edwards continued, “Talk radio … they want you to be angry too, and they get angrier if you don’t get angry about what they want you to get angry about.”

The state of newspapers today was the next theme examined by the NPR host. “Newspapers depend on readers, and we are no longer readers. Circulation figures are in freefall, and newspapers are in a panic. Foreign bureaus have been closed. Newspapers have scaled down the quality of their product. They’re trying to make newspapers look like TV or the Internet. They’ve jazzed up their graphics and include a lot more celebrity pulp and gossip. The stories are shorter and breezier. A lot of feel-good stuff and pandering featured. Generation X is the target readership. Newspapers, like radio stations, are being gobbled up by chain owners with results that there are fewer independent voices. Now they have absentee owners. Remember afternoon papers?”

Edwards then related how “magazine advertisers want to know what will be in the publication before they buy an ad,” he said, “causing editors to ‘spike’ offensive stories.”

A native of Louisville, Ky., Edwards earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville and began his career at a small radio station in New Albany, Ind. While serving in the U.S. Army, he produced an anchored news programs for the American Forces Radio Network in Seoul, Korea. After his military service, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he earned a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from The American University.