News producer discusses media, politics

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Photo by Joyce Xi.

Though Richard Kaplan said he once dreamed of living in the White House as president of the United States, he settled for being president of two major news networks instead.

Kaplan, executive producer of ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” and former president of both CNN and MSNBC, discussed his five-decade career working for American news organizations in front of roughly 30 members of the Yale community Monday afternoon at Sterling Memorial Library. During the event, which was arranged by the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, Kaplan recounted stories from his career as a TV show producer and expressed concerns about the current state of politics and the media.

With an early interest in politics, Kaplan worked on various political campaigns in the 1960s before landing his first reporting job as a copyboy at WBBM-TV, a CBS-owned station in Chicago, when he was 23. Five years later, he had risen within the station to become an associate producer for CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Over the next 50 years, Kaplan moved on from CBS to serve as senior vice president of ABC News, president of CNN and president of MSNBC, among other positions. He has also won 46 Emmy awards.

Kaplan said he decided to work in broadcast journalism rather than print because he thinks it “covers the world,” with reporting that reaches beyond small, local events.

“I’m not big on fires or shootings at the corner,” he said. “If there are enough of them, we’ll feature them, but I like to make a point of covering all the news that needs to be covered.”

Despite his focus on broadcast journalism, Kaplan offered advice to all those developing their media interests and skills. He suggested they report from first-hand experience, cautioning that an individual perspective is not sufficient to cover world events.

During a 40-minute question-and-answer session, Kaplan responded to audience members’ inquiries about his career and his opinions of today’s media.

Neil St. Clair GRD ’13 asked Kaplan what he thought of the current state of journalism in the United States, and in particular about talking heads on major news networks.

“There are many great programs, but a lot of it is just noise,” Kaplan told St. Clair.

Kaplan also expressed frustration about how news networks often fuel political mud-slinging and “coarseness in society.” He added that both politics and the media are going through an “evil period of time,” and expressed concern that political coverage by major news networks is devolving into “two sides barking at each other.”

Kaplan was named executive producer of “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” in 2011.

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