The American media has found itself in the intriguing position of not only reporting the news, but making news themselves. Unofficially known as the fourth branch of government, their role of adding another layer to the system of checks and balances, holding the powers that be accountable and protecting free speech is more crucial than ever. At the center of it all, Armonk’s own, CNN “New Day” co-anchor John Berman gives a compelling snapshot of what it’s like living in the spotlight of the news camera.
Berman and his wife relocated from New York City to Armonk in the fall of 2011 as their identical twin boys, now fifth graders, prepared to enter kindergarten. He recalls the process, “We ended up in Armonk by chance. I’m from outside Boston and my wife’s from Vermont, so Westchester was in the right direction. Armonk was what we could afford, has great schools and is reminiscent of the small, woodsy towns we grew up in.” Berman has embraced the juxtaposition of city and country living as the assistant coach of his boys’ baseball team and an explorer of the local parks, even becoming an avid hawk watcher at the Audubon Greenwich.
A Protégé of Peter Jennings
Berman began his career in 1995 at ABC, eventually landing the head writer role for “World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.” Describing Peter as a mentor, he says, “Peter was the most inquisitive person I ever met. He was inherently skeptical and had the best follow-up question in journalism, which was ‘really?’” The experience prepared Berman for his current role as anchor, where he must be prepared to cover the unpredictable, breaking news CNN is characterized for. He explains, “I don’t think I realized until I became an anchor myself, five years ago, just how much I witnessed, observed and learned at World News.”
The self-described “political junkie” is enjoying covering the current political environment, saying, “There’s really one story. It’s the White House and everything associated with it whether it’s the investigations, booming economy or the changing role of the U.S. in the world.”
Discussing today’s reporters and some of their seemingly polarizing political stances, Berman says, “I think there’s an impression that the anchors of the past generation were more detached from the stories, but I don’t know that that’s true. If you look at Walter Cronkite and his coverage of Vietnam, he was very passionate. He tested the notions on Vietnam in the same way that the media is now testing some of the assertions coming out of the White House. And, I don’t think there’s a reporter today who badgers a White House the way Sam Donaldson did. So, I think there aren’t as many differences as one may think. Perfect impartiality is impossible. What you need to be is fair. But truth is truth and fact is fact.”
Responding to ‘Fake News’
That’s not to say that the media is immune to operating under today’s microscope as Berman explains, “The true difference is that the spotlight is on us more than it’s ever been. It makes what we do even more important, which is to always ask questions and to test power. It motivates us to keep getting better and working harder. And to not back off–at all.”
In response to the current administration’s coinage of the term “fake news” and it being directed, in many cases, at CNN, Berman responds, “I think hurling the words ‘fake news’ is unfortunate and damaging. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing stories or even a news organization that you don’t like, but when you start calling a profession fake, when you start calling something that is protected in the Constitution fake, then you’re playing a very dangerous game and you have to ask why. What do the people making those charges get out of discrediting journalists? Why is it to their advantage? Why are they afraid? The media is not infallible. There are things we get wrong, but we’ll admit it. We issue corrections. In similar circumstances, I’m not sure that some of our leaders do that when it’s been proven that things they’ve said are false.”
One topic the Boston native refuses to remain impartial to, however, is sports, unabashedly saying, “It’s been easy to raise Boston fans in New York because we’ve been winning a lot.” Berman recounts a tale from 1995, when he was thrown out of Yankee Stadium for defending the rights of a Red Sox player who was “brutally attacked” by the Yankee pitcher. His assertion was met with shouting from the crowd and he was ultimately removed from the game.
While initially “mortified,” he soon realized it made for a good story and wears the experience as a badge of honor. This incident extends to all aspects of his life as he continues to remain steadfast in his commitment to report on the story and ask the questions. Peter Jennings shared an adage that Berman returns to regularly, “If your mother says she loves you, test it. Don’t trust it unless you have a second source.” And, he does that every single day, whether it’s at the Audubon, Yankee Stadium or anchoring the news desk at CNN’s “New Day.”