“They don’t trust either of us every much,” Brown said during his keynote speech at the Arizona Capitol Times’ Leaders of the Year awards luncheon.
Brown, who was a news anchor at ABC and CNN before taking a job as professor of journalism at ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, was expected to give a congratulatory speech about the accomplishments of government officials who spearheaded advancements in public policy.
Instead, Brown took the opportunity to speak about the loss of credibility facing both media and government in the public eye and what can be done to fix it. He said afterward that giving any other speech would have been “antithetical” to his beliefs about Arizona government.
“The disconnect between the governed and those who do the governing has never been greater,” he said.
Several people who attended the event have said they were surprised that Brown decided to criticize the politicians in attendance, rather than focus on celebrating the accomplishments of public policy leaders. They also said it was odd that Brown used the late Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey as a thread throughout his speech.
“Telling us about Humphrey was an odd choice,” said one person who heard Brown’s speech.
During the speech, Brown described the government and media as living organisms that will fight to the death to protect themselves. As a result, government reform is often discouraged in exchange for the preservation of the status quo, he said.
The American people believe those in government are more interested in winning re-election than problem-solving, Brown said. While people want honesty in their elected officials, people believe that most of what of politicians say is crafted by political consultants, he said.
Brown said elected officials often fail to stand up and defend what they believe in and would rather do what is necessary to guarantee votes for re-election.
Recalling that a member of Congress got a huge fundraising boost by calling President Obama a liar during an official address, Brown said there comes a point where politicians need to stand up and say “stop that,” without waiting for it to be tested in focus groups.
Despite being a reporter himself, even the media received no safe harbor in Brown’s speech.
“Modern media shares plenty of blame,” he said, “We have become a country long on opinions and short on facts.”
Opposite sides of the political spectrum used to have different solutions to the same problems, Brown said, but now they can’t even agree on what the problems are.
“How can we possibly work toward consensus and solution if we cannot agree on the fundamental nature of the problems we face?” he said.
Even the political media has an investment in maintaining the status quo, he said. Oftentimes there is an unhealthy co-dependence between politicians and political reporters, Brown said. Political press is often too concerned with losing contacts within government rather than remembering they write for the people, he said.
Brown also recognized the accomplishments of the 17 award-recipients, who were honored for their contributions in business, arts and humanities, environment, volunteerism and other areas. He said the honorees represent the values needed to create reform and achieve greatness.
“The people we have seen today have reached for something great in their lives, and I think we should join them,” Brown said.
When asked why he decided to give the speech, Brown replied that he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the audience, look them in the eye and say “You can do better.”
Brown has been invited to speak at many distinguished events across the country, but he said it’s rare for him to have an opportunity to address so many political leaders at one time.