CNN Anchor John Berman ’90 Reflects on Career in Journalism

Berman donated $50,000 in Jeopardy! winnings to his charity, “Friends of Karen.”

A stream of bullets pierced through a cloud of smoke overhead, barely missing John Berman ’90 as he crouched in a ditch attempting to report on the Iraq War. Stories of such experiences were shared at Berman’s visit to the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library on Friday, September 27, during which Berman also discussed his career as an anchor for the Cable News Network (CNN) and the political bias and truth in journalism.

Berman started as a war correspondent covering the Marines in Iraq during 2003 for the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). After working at ABC for 17 years, Berman joined CNN in 2012, where he is currently the co-anchor of New Day with Alisyn Camerota.

According to Berman, his experiences in Iraq and in journalism have given him insight into the notions of truth and communication. He realized that while journalism is ideally based on the truth alone, the array of explanations and deliverances of that truth has the potential to cause rifts between people of different views.

Additionally, Berman shared how the increase in fake news and accusations aimed at major news organizations, such as CNN, has only intensified the bias of journalism. Berman referred to how Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein described the goals of journalism and reporters: “the best obtainable version of the truth.”

“Our goal is the truth. When people aren’t speaking the truth, it is our job to say that; we’ve had to say it more now than any other person before. It’s hard. The more you say that a person is lying, lying, lying, lying, lying, people are going to say that you’re politically biased. I’m not really; I’m just truthfully biased. I’m biased against liars and if people aren’t going to tell the truth then I’m going to point it out,” said Berman.

“The more you try to calibrate left or right or this or that is when you start to get into trouble. I just try to do the reporting and to tell the story and to get at the truth in as little as I can worry about what they are going to say on each side,” continued Berman.

While different interpretations or even fabrications of truth can cause issues within communities, Berman believes that the variation in the approaches to journalism is essential for good reporting, as he observed firsthand during his time as a war reporter.

“In general I think there are two types of war reporters and I think both are good. There are those who actually get a rush and thrill from being next to danger, and they can be great reporters in certain times and in certain ways and I think there are people like me who are legitimately scared of it and I think that can make you see things in different ways too. Both are necessary to cover conflict,” said Berman.

This recognition that effective journalism can derive from a multitude of approaches stems from an appreciation of being able to share ideas, which Berman experienced while a student at Andover. Berman enjoyed courses in political science, history, and English and was part of the business staff of The Phillipian. He believes that Andover’s competitive environment taught him how to remain humble, a quality that still applies to his work.

“I was never the smartest or the greatest which isn’t a bad lesson. It’s a good lesson. I actually grew to enjoy it here because you could learn from other people and that’s one of the things I like about in my job now, which is that I get to ask people who know a ton questions that I really want the answers to. I think [Andover] could really teach you humility and a respect for knowledge that has been incredibly valuable to me,” said Berman.

Jackie Rossi ’20, a board member of The Corner Office, was central in organizing the talk. In addition to Berman’s insight into journalism and his recollections of his Andover experience, Rossi especially appreciated Berman’s visit in the way that it demonstrated the strength and action of the alumni network.

“For me personally I felt that this really put into perspective how far reaching the alumni network is… I think it was really impactful for me because I realized then that our alumni network is made up of so many of these prominent people who are truly making a difference in the world and how we have such easy access to them,” said Rossi.

Berman’s role as a foreign correspondent and an advocate of truth has allowed him to impact his audiences. He ultimately concluded his talk by emphasizing the importance of accountability, and that without it, ethics and truth may be misconstrued. In general, he welcomes and accepts criticism since it allows him to reflect on his own actions and words.

“I know I did a good job on the show if I’m criticized by people both on the left and the right; it happens a lot. I find it instructive and I don’t think they’re right; I think a lot of the criticism is wrong. However, once in a while someone says something that makes me think, ‘Oh. Maybe the way I said that could be said some way else. Maybe it wasn’t totally fair to do it that way,'” said Berman.