Ira Glass: "I Want to Reach the People Who Are Not Interested in Factual Information"

Ira Glass, distinguished honoree and past duPont-Columbia Award winner, speaking at the 2017 duPont-Columbia Awards.

Ira Glass, distinguished honoree and past duPont-Columbia Award winner, speaking at the 2017 duPont-Columbia Awards.

On January 25th, 2017, we celebrated the 75th Anniversary of the duPont-Columbia Awards. That night, we honored not only our fourteen winners (see the full list here), but distinguished past winners as well, including Ira Glass of This American Life.

You can listen to his remarks on this episode of On Assignment, along with remarks from the two other honorees that evening, veteran journalists Bill Moyers and Christiane Amanpour, or read the transcript of Glass' remarks below. 

Ira Glass' full remarks from the 2017 duPont-Columbia Awards:

"One way to measure the limited power of fact-based reporting came this September, when Donald Trump held a press conference declaring that, number one, he had personally concluded that Barack Obama was born in this country, and number two, the rumor that he was not born in this country was started by Hillary Clinton.

That second claim, everybody will remember, was refuted almost in real time on live television—forcefully and thoroughly by the excellent and exemplary Jake Tapper on CNN and by a number of others.

And then the entire machine of the American mainstream media kicked into gear immediately refuting the lie about Hillary Clinton starting the birther controversy. And a couple days after that I went looking for polling numbers on this issue.

The only poll that I could find that hit this specific topic in the right time-frame was a Monmouth poll of likely voters in Florida. It showed that a couple days after Trump's press conference, one third now believe that Hillary Clinton started the birther controversy. Which is really depressing. I don't know how you all are feeling, but as a working journalist it sometimes feels like I'm on a team that is losing yardage week by week.

And I also had this feeling that I wonder if other people in this in this room have had: I want to reach those people who are not interested in factual information, or actively doubt the factual information presented by those who are in the mainstream media. It's a puzzle I've honestly been thinking about for months: how do we present fact-based reporting to people who do not trust any of us in this room? Like, what do we need to invent to do that?

I would say, because I am a fact-based person, that the answer is possibly that there's nothing we can do.

But I'll also say: That just seems like quitter talk.

Among the American values that I believe journalists carry every day in their jobs is that we are not quitters: We make the extra phone call, we do the extra interview, we do not shut up. Ever. And I don't know—I feel like we need to run at this problem.

We were told to focus our remarks tonight—I got an e-mail saying "focus on things that will inspire our audience.” And ever since I was a baby reporter at NPR when I was nineteen, twenty years old, I have taken my assignments very seriously and I try to deliver to my editors what I am asked.

So here are some things that I see right now that I find to be hopeful. First off, in just the first few days of this new administration, the force and the speed with which the press has been countering the non-factual statements coming out of the White House has been totally wonderful to watch.

So many moments in the Spicer press conferences make me feel so proud to be a journalist, proud to be on the team. Proud of my colleagues who are asking questions like, "Could we just hear like how many people are unemployed, right now, in this country? Like what's the baseline?" Mara Liasson asked that recently at a press conference: Like, "If you're saying you're going to add to the jobs, what is the unemployment rate right now?"

I'm in the unusual position to be a part of journalism that's going through a crazy boom-time where audience and revenues are climbing up very, very quickly: podcasting. Millions of people around the world are consuming longform, serious journalism in podcast form.

Thirteen million people downloaded every episode of Serial Season One. Four million people more, I think, downloaded every episode of NPR's Invisibila. 2.5 million download every episode of This American Life.

These podcasts go places that are really interesting. One of our producers Zoe Chace was at one of the inaugural balls last week—the one for people who create memes and troll on behalf of Donald Trump on social media. It was the "Deploraball" and she was very interested to learn how many many fans [This American Life] had there. Like one person after another came out to her to tell her that. And the president, for all of his complaining about CNN, really seems to watch a lot of CNN, you know?

One third of the people in that Florida poll believed a lie. And two thirds knew it was a lie—they heard the truth. Which is to say people are still paying attention to what we're doing. We are still in the game. So as Lester Holt said at the beginning of the ceremony, let's do our jobs."

Since the awards’ founding in 1942, the duPont-Columbia Awards have honored accurate and fair reporting about important issues that are powerfully told. The first awards ceremony honored radio broadcasting, and radio reporting remains a crucial platform for the duPonts.

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