TCA Begins at Home, Virtually, with PBS

She was flanked on the Zoom conference screen by big stars from the network —  documentarian Ken Burns, NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. of “Finding Your Roots” and several documentary projects, including an announced upcoming one on the Black church.

The pandemic hasn’t slowed the work of Burns who said he just finished a three-part, six-hour series on Ernest Hemingway, “one of the deepest dives we have done.”

Coming up? Eight and a half hours about Muhammad Ali in fall of 2021; a six hour look at “The United States and the Holocaust” and four hours on Benjamin Franklin, both due in 2022; and upcoming ones on the American Revolution, the history of the buffalo and LBJ’s Great Society as well as “our first non-American topic, on the life of Leonardo da Vinci,” Burns says.

Gates says the pandemic has affected his work. He won’t do Zoom calls for “Finding Our Roots” but found a way to use remote cameras and in the end, started interviewing guests at the other end of a six-foot table. 

A lot of the day was spent on news coverage — making it an easy transition for TV reporters who were used to hearing from Woodruff and “Washington Week” anchor Robert Costa at TCA more often via satellite than live anyway. 

With elections looming, Kerger vowed to “ continue to get at the heart of the truth and speak truth to power.” 

As far as how to do that, Woodruff said, “I don’t like to use the term ‘objective’ …I am not a machine or a computer. I am a human being…I have personal opinions. I try to be fair.”

Yamiche Alcindor has made her name as a standout White House correspondent for PBS by asking persistent questions and for gaining the wrath of the President for doing so. 

Which made it amusing when she answered my inquiry about who gets chosen to ask question in the briefing room. 

“The president decides who he wants to pick on that day,” she said, “and reporters try our best to get picked on.”

Mission accomplished!

But, she added, “Every day I come into the White House I usually have a list of questions and part of that list is, of course, news of day; part of that list is what’s going on around the world; and part of that list is always about social justice and race, because at the core of what I do and what we do at the NewsHour is about civil rights journalism and writing about how people are treated in country and how race and slavery continues to be something that impacts America.”

Ultimately, she said, “my list of questions is usually longer than I get to pose to the president.”

The virtual PBS Press Tour continues through Thursday. 

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