Integrity Matters
June 18, 2003

Brinkley set standard for news integrity

Question: (E-052)

Dear Jim:

David Brinkley was a pioneer of the news media. In his own words, “I was at NBC when the first television camera was rolled in.”

With Chet Huntley, his co-anchor at NBC News, he garnered fame far beyond the realm of journalism. In 1965, a consumer-research company found that Huntley and Brinkley were recognized by more adult Americans than John Wayne or The Beatles.

Did Brinkley represent integrity? Was his integrity what caused him to be so admired?


With the death of David Brinkley on June 11, America lost a superstar. He communicated a sense of proportion about his work and himself. He seemed to be comfortable reporting the news with no effort on his part to become the news. He delivered his reporting in an even-handed manner. When he did choose to make his opinions known, he offered them straight out, to the point and without apology or vindictiveness.

Brinkley would not be a “spin doctor,” nor would he have hired one. He called them as he saw them. For that reason alone, one could describe him as an individual with integrity - precisely because there was congruence between what he said and what he did, as well as what he said about what he did. His honesty could be felt, from his words and his “on-camera” delivery. At least, that was how he appeared for about 60 years. Faking integrity for six decades is difficult, if not impossible, especially when millions of people are watching and listening, day in and day out.

It could be that Brinkley’s celebrity and fame were the results of a less complicated time. The era in which he built his career, from the 1940’s to 1990’s, was moving toward (but had not yet achieved) current levels of cynicism and mistrust of public figures. News broadcasting had not yet sunk to more recent greed-driven levels with the “take no prisoners” pursuit of ratings and revenues.

In the early days of television journalism, such news professionals as Brinkley, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, recognized the importance of honesty, courage and forthrightness. The public placed its trust in them and they knew it.

So, what is it about David Brinkley’s death that causes us to pause and reflect?

First, we yearn for times when trust and integrity were the currency of the day.

Second, we know that such courage and predictability will be hard to replace.

Third, his death is a signal that we must not continue the mindless feeding of an insatiable appetite for the sensational at the expense of the important, no matter the financial incentives.

Fourth, his life reminds us that we are stewards of integrity, and each time we compromise it for short-term recognition and ego satisfaction, we put our values at risk.

Fifth, we have finally lost his steadiness as well as his presence, at the wheel of the great ship called “television news broadcasting” and we will never again hear his thoughtful integrity-centered comments nor feel his reassuring stature as he signs off at the end of a thoughtful and substantive television broadcast.

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