One of the things Charles Osgood likes about his job is that he gets to meet fantastic people he never would have met in the normal course of life — like having lunch with Bill Gates or talking with Ted Turner on his yacht after Turner had won the America's Cup.

And he says that how he talks with people such as Gates and Turner or how he presents himself as the anchor of "CBS News Sunday Morning" and radio's "The Osgood File," has a lot to do with civility.

Osgood began the "Civility in America Lecture Series" on April 21 with a lecture on "Civility in the Media." The series is presented by the Dilenschneider Group, a strategic communications and PR firm, and the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

Osgood spoke about how so many people in the media live to bring down a public figure. "And there are plenty of bad guys," he said.

But Osgood said that this approach could sometimes prevent media from listening in interviews. "If you are involved in a conversation and do not listen, you learn nothing," Osgood said. "If you are doing an interview and thinking about the next question you can ask … but there is no dialogue there."

He also talked about the problems caused when television personalities put themselves front and center, particularly if they believe "that what the public wants is not light, but heat and the more heat the better, the more incivility there is going to be and the less we all will learn from watching such a person on television."

He admitted that he did put stories sometimes on his show that he didn't like — like celebrity arrest stories. But he said he could do it in eight seconds and that he tried to make a bad face while telling it.

Politeness was also on Osgood's mind as he noted the loss of simple kindnesses.

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During the question-and-answer period following the speech, an audience member challenged Osgood about whether things really used to be more civil. "Isn't it true that in the past, that people would use terms about ethnic minorities, about women, about disabled people that we wouldn't conceive of using today? To that extent, wouldn't you say that we are living in a more civil society?"

Osgood responded without a moment's hesitation, "Yes. Absolutely," he said. "It was lack of civility that we used those terms."

But he said it would still be a better world today if we spoke politely — such as doing things as simple as saying "thank you" and "you're welcome."

Email: mdegroote@desnews.com, Twitter: twitter.com/degroote

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