Broadcast Network News Chiefs Take On Trump Tweets, #MeToo, M&A Impact In Rare Group Panel

Noah Oppenheim Susan Zirinsky James Goldston
Noah Oppenheim, Susan Zirinsky and James Goldston via Twitter

In a rare appearance on the same stage, the heads of the news divisions at ABC, CBS and NBC took on a range of topics, from M&A to the state of broadcast TV and, of course, coping with the nearly constant barrage of President Donald Trump’s tweets.

NBC’s Noah Oppenheim, CBS’ Susan Zirinsky and ABC’s James Goldston all expressed sentiments on Trump tweets during the panel session at the FT Future of News Summit. Their thoughts contradicted the view of Vice News EVP Josh Tyrangiel on a previous panel. He said Vice deliberately limits its coverage of the tweets for fear of being overwhelmed by the “firehose” of information, though he credited Trump with an Andy Warhol-level inversion of the traditional scarcity of presidential commentary.

“Something may seem irrelevant in a Trump tweet, but it does get into what he’s thinking, what might happen,” Zirinsky said. “We make judgments based on editorial value, but I think the tweets are important. They are the voice of the president.” Oppenheim said the president’s tweets “provide insight into the president’s thinking,” while Goldston offered support for capturing the president “in his own words, unfiltered.”

Moderator Matthew Garrahan, news editor of the Financial Times, asked Zirinsky for an update on the CBS News workplace culture, which has been mending since the exits in recent months of former CEO Les Moonves, 60 Minutes boss Jeff Fager and anchor Charlie Rose. Zirinsky dryly cited Lemony Snicket and referred to the past changes as “a series of unfortunate events.”

Turning more serious, she said the actions in prior years “created a landscape that had to be adjusted.” The tumult of #MeToo has created an ongoing series of changes that is unlikely to ever cease. “This change is one that society had to make. We’re really dictating change and we have hired people. … We’re listening and we’re acting.” In order to reassure employees, “I’m way too accessible,” she quipped. “But I don’t know any other way.”

Oppenheim affirmed plans for NBC and Sky (acquired last year by NBC parent Comcast) to create an international streaming service. He didn’t offer any specifics, but said it would be a co-branded effort. Sky’s troops are being marshaled to offer expertise that will power NBCUniversal’s ad-supported streaming service, which will launch in 2020 across the Comcast and Sky pay-TV footprint.

One sharp audience question asked the trio for their opinions on consolidation in the local station sector, with Nexstar and Sinclair each controlling a large chunk of the total market. As to the risk of political or business agendas distorting the coverage, Goldston said, “I would urge all of them to stay independent.

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