North Texas Daily

Big paychecks for newscasters compromise their credibility

Big paychecks for newscasters compromise their credibility

Big paychecks for newscasters compromise their credibility
March 31
12:00 2022

One of the core tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is “act independently.” It specifies that journalists should be wary of sources offering money for information, and it’s considered outright unethical to be paid by a third party to run a news story. But in a world where the most-watched news anchors receive seven or eight-digit figure salaries, it seems we must reevaluate whether these high paychecks also compromise a reporter’s credibility.

Sean Hannity, Megyn Kelly, Tucker Carlson, Anderson Cooper and Brett Baier are some of the most well-paid TV personalities on air. Most of them are from either Fox News or CNN, with a few coming in from MSNBC or ABC. This is benign at first. However, the general public perceives Fox and CNN as the most biased news stations on the air, according to a study done by the Knight Foundation. It comes as no shock to find that the news stations dishing out the biggest paychecks are also the ones the general public finds to be the most unreliable.

Forty-six percent of those polled believed Fox was “extremely biased,” second only to Breitbart News, which provides primarily written content. CNN polled at around 33 percent.

Some of these wealthy news anchors have (quietly) admitted they are not the beacons of truth every journalist strives to be. Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson allegedly rakes in about $10 million a year for his endeavors on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” even after his lawyers won a court case by admitting Carlson does not “state actual facts” and engages in “exaggeration” and “non-literal commentary.” To many of the 4 million people who watch Carlson’s show every night, this couldn’t be. Either way, Fox rewards Carlson with tens of millions of dollars for spreading sensationalized stories.

Huge paychecks don’t always mean bias. Famous news anchors like Diane Sawyer, the first female correspondent on “60 Minutes,” were largely free of accusations of bias. Sawyer also made more than $20 million at the peak of her career. Others like Robin Roberts, Lester Holt and Scott Pelley receive millions yearly but are free from the perception of political or social leanings. None of these people (with the exception of Sawyer), however, are paid as much as the more biased news companies’ figureheads.

It’s true all of the journalists who are paid the highest once started out as low-level reporters with exponentially lower paychecks and that they all worked their way to the esteemed prime-time hours they have today. But esteem and accomplishment do not shield a journalist from their duty to be diligent in their craft, and it certainly doesn’t remove them from scrutiny.

Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for her story about an 8-year-old heroin addict. However, she eventually admitted the story was fabricated and returned the award. Even the most trusted news organizations must constantly be under a watchful eye.

Jayson Blair, a former reporter and editor for The New York Times, left a trail of seven articles the Times called “a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper” in a 7,200-word piece it published in response. Regardless of a publication’s status or a journalist’s accolades, it must always be self-evaluating its own influences, and money is just as much a factor as any other social or political belief.

Does this mean we should dock the paychecks of the most renowned broadcast journalists because they will inevitably become biased? Not necessarily. However, some reflection on how much money these organizations allocate to such a small group of people may be appropriate, especially when there are other journalists doing equally commendable work being paid much less.

Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, makes around $100,000 a year. While that is certainly far from a small salary, Ward has more than a decade’s worth of experience as a war correspondent, experience that has been hard-won. At the time of publication, Ward is currently in Kyiv, Ukraine, covering the Russian invasion and receives a large amount of screentime as she covers one of the most important geopolitical conflicts in history.

Compared to the anchors at the desk, Ward’s paycheck is small, despite putting her own life on the line. It ultimately says more about the kinds of information these media outlets value than it says about the experience of those being paid to spread it.

Featured Illustration By Erika Sevilla

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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