The topics were just like any other town hall meeting. But with a candid approach, Peter Jennings, anchor of ABC World News Tonight, made a near capacity audience comfortable by cracking a few jokes and encouraging them to ask questions.
Jennings hosted a town hall meeting in the College of Public Health Auditorium at USF on Wednesday night which featured local Tampa journalists and a USF professor.
ABC News Channel 28 anchor Brendan McLaughlin; Karen Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute; radio personality, Jack Harris; Tampa Tribune columnist Daniel Ruth; and USF political science professor Susan MacManus joined Jennings, who moderated the event.
The night started off with a question from a man who asked the panel about the possibility of passing a law that would restrict the media’s coverage on certain events. The man presented the terrorist incident during the Munich Olympics to support his argument. MacManus immediately responded, saying she cannot see an absolute law that would restrict the media in any capacity.
“I don’t see America approving such a law,” MacManus said.
Jennings said while no law may be in place that regulates the media, he gave an example of how the government still influences what the public sees.
“One of the things that this administration has decided that we would not be allowed to see is dead Americans coming home,” Jennings said.
Another audience member asked a heated question on what seemed to be a split issue among the audience itself, a proposed obligation for young people to serve a mandatory two-year term in the military after high school. MacManus insisted again that she did not think that Americans, especially teenagers, would approve of such a mandate. Jennings entertained such a requirement, since there are many countries in Europe that are having some success with a similar setup.
“The key is choice, that’s what democracy is all about,” MacManus answered.
Panelist Harris said he might also support a limited form of the idea presented.
“Perhaps, six months of mandatory service should be a possibility,” Harris said.
On the unemployment issue, a elderly woman told the panel of her daughter’s struggle to find a job after relocating to Florida.
“President Bush said that ‘We should put Americans back to work,’ but what is he doing to provide more jobs for people?” she asked the panel.
Another woman who got the chance to talk, said since the beginning of the war she has stopped watching the news because of what she called the media’s effort to label people throughout their coverage.
Jennings tried to redirect the question by saying what might be considered “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
“I think we agree with each other that we don’t give enough thought to this,” Jennings told the panel. “What should we call what the American media calls terrorists?”
Ruth, who has written for the Tribune since 1982, talked about the possibility of the American media’s lack of knowledge of “our enemy.”
“It speaks to another weakness in reporting. This whole war was sold to the American people on the basis of this one individual (Saddam),” he said.
“(American media) have done a really bad job of really explaining who are the Iraqis, what’s a Sunni, what’s a Shiite …who are the Kurds. Who are all these people and how they inter-relate to one another?”
The meeting will air on ABC News Channel 28 Sunday at 12:30 p.m.