JL: I haven’t even got time to consider [that]. Look, we have a considerable audience for our program. We do serious journalism. We’ve been on the air for 30 years. We just celebrated our thirtieth anniversary and I have every [indication] we’ll be here for at least 30 more. Whether somebody says some stupid thing like that — be my guest, I don’t care. People can say anything they want to. If they don’t want to get the news from me, get it from somebody else. It’s not something I’m going to worry about, I’m sorry.
LCB: You have described the NewsHour as a forum for “civil discourse.” Can you elaborate? And, do you see any value in the often uncivilized cable shoutfests?
JL: Look, I’m a believer in all of it. I think all kinds of discourse is good for our democratic society — civil discourse, uncivil discourse, screaming, hollering, poetry, however you want to have a discussion is fine with me. I’m in the civil discourse business. I think it takes all kinds. And more power to everybody.
LCB: After too much exposure to cable news programs with sound effects, news crawls, triple-split-screens, flashing graphics and such, watching the NewsHour can be a shock to the system — the ability to focus, singly, on the story being presented without other images and noises competing for your attention. Do you see anything useful for the viewer in all these bells and whistles?
JL: I’d repeat what I said. People can get their news any way they want. What I love about what’s happened is that there are so many different avenues, there are so many different outlets, so many different ways to debate and discuss and to inquire about any given news story. If people want bells and whistles and all of that, there are bells and whistles available. If they don’t want bells and whistles there are places to go where they are not available. I am in favor of everything. Everyone should get their news however they want to and in whatever form they want. I’m not going to sit back in judgment of other people and the way they do it.
If Letterman tells a joke with a piece of information in it that you didn’t know before, that’s fine with me, that doesn’t bother me. I mean, my God, you’ve got to get it off a serious news program or it doesn’t count? I don’t believe that for a second … If we don’t have an informed electorate we don’t have a democracy. So I don’t care how people get the information, as long as they get it. I’m just doing it my particular way and I feel lucky I can do it the way I want to do it.
LCB: So you think there’s often information to be had from the cable shoutfests?
JL: Well, I assume. I don’t watch them myself, so I’m no expert. I don’t watch that, so I don’t know. But I assume there is. Whatever there is, at least they’re talking about things that matter. As I say, I’m a discourse advocate. What form it comes is less important to me than the fact that there is discourse.
LCB: Finally, Katie Couric’s move to CBS has inspired a lot of talk about what it takes to anchor the news in the evening, and one word that inevitably comes up is “gravitas.” What is it and do you have it?
JL: I have to let other people decide that.
LCB: How would you define it?
JL: I don’t know what it means.
LCB: Is it a necessary ingredient to anchor the evening news?
JL: I don’t know. … I’ll leave that for others to talk about. That’s not my subject. I started as a print reporter. I’m a journalist and that’s what I do. My function is an anchorperson, but it’s in a journalism context, and gravitas and coats and ties and haircuts and all that sort of stuff, I’ll leave to others. My thing is just to do my job the best way I know how and as I say I’m very fortunate to be able to do it the way I want to do it.
LCB: What qualities do you bring to it, then?
JL:You’ll have to ask other people that. Look, I’ve been doing this for 30 years. … This is it: I’m available five nights a week and have been for 30 years. For me to sit back and say, “I bring this, this and this,” forget it. I’m not going to waste my time on that sort of question. Sorry.