The Broadcast News Bosses Agree: Their Networks Matter

Susan Zirinsky, Noah Oppenheim, and James Goldston- Split-Getty-H 2019
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Susan Zirinsky (CBS News), Noah Oppenheim (NBC News) and James Goldston (ABC News) were aligned on the relevance of their medium during a Financial Times panel.

No news was made during a Thursday morning gathering of the two men and one woman who run the nation's primary broadcast news networks: NBC News president Noah Oppenheim, ABC News president James Goldston and CBS News president Susan Zirinsky.

On the same stage for a Financial Times panel discussion, the executives only showed their teeth when asked whether the relevance of their news networks, particularly their evening news shows, is waning. They also disagreed strongly when asked if cable news hosts like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow and Fox News' Sean Hannity are more politically relevant than the Lester Holts and David Muirs of the world.

"Ultimately, the things that are more influential are the stories we break or the news that we break," Oppenheim said. "At the end of the day, on some level, opinion is just reinforcing what the audience already believes, and they're watching it for that affirmation. The Mueller Report is going to be more influential to what people think about Donald Trump than what Sean Hannity says on any one night."

Pitching the value of NBC News' broadcasts, Oppenheim said, "I think people are craving news organizations that have clear standards and an objective point of view, standards that haven't changed since the doors were opened, that allow them to know that the information they're getting is straight down the middle. People want that. That objectivity, that promise to the audience is what keeps us successful today."

Here's how Zirinsky defended her network's relevance: "I think there is a real hunger right now for a truthful reporting of news, and I think the three networks absolutely have that and you can see it, you can see it in the [ratings]."

Zirinsky, who has made her mark on CBS News since taking over for David Rhodes, said that the "analysis and context" her anchors and reporters provide viewers is "different from point of view."

Asked about the value of the CBS Evening News and CBS This Morning, she said, "I do believe that they should exist, will exist, as we evolve more fruitfully into the digital era."

Goldston talked about the value of neutrality, which he said extends to the social media accounts of his employees. "Everyone who has ABC News in their title speaks for ABC News in every single thing they do," he said.

The three news chiefs demurred when asked if the era of the "star anchor" has passed, citing the short tenures of Katie Couric at CBS News and Megyn Kelly at NBC News. They argued that their current anchors — Holt on NBC, Muir at ABC, Gayle King and Norah O'Donnell at CBS — are "stars."

"Certainly the era of the star still exists," Oppenheim said. "We're certainly proud of our stars."