You are being cheated — cheated out of important information the media should be bringing you but isn’t. To me, it’s a crime not only against you — the voters — but against the craft of journalism to which I’ve dedicated my life.
Understand that this is not a column touting either Republican or Democratic politicians. This is about the reporters who cover those politicians for a living and what I see as their monumental failure to serve the public.
I’ve been there done that. During my career, I’ve covered presidential campaigns and conventions, Congress and the White House. While it has always been a game of reporters trying to coax real news out of calculating politicians and their strategists, today’s manipulation of the media — and reporters’ willingness to be used as conduits in the current trend of “politics of destruction” — is over-the-top bad.
At a time when the economy is sputtering, unemployment remains intolerably high, health care is unattainable for so many Americans and the future of young people seems so dim, the media covering the presidential race concentrate on the mundane.
Why? Because it’s easier than trying to clearly explain a candidate’s solutions to looming problems such as Medicare, Social Security or the multiple-trillion-dollar deficit. And let’s face it. Those topics just aren’t as sexy as some of the “scandals” being laid in the media’s lap.
Party operatives (from both sides) spoon-feed meaningless stories to reporters on the campaign trail hoping to sour voters on the opposition. These tantalizing tales are lapped up and regurgitated for the public under the guise of “news.”
I mean, really, do you get up in the morning concerned that a freshman congressman from Kansas went skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee last summer? Or that a candidate drove around with his crated dog on the roof of the car during a family vacation nearly three decades ago? Of course you don’t, because it doesn’t affect your life. But these insignificant stories continue to eat up countless minutes on television and fill column after column of newsprint.
When one horribly misinformed Republican congressman makes a stupid crack about “legitimate rape” and how a woman’s reproductive system can shut down during an attack, do you think his comments should taint every member of the GOP?
How about when the Democratic vice president slips into a drawl and tells a predominately black audience that if the Republican wins the White House he will, “Unchain Wall Street (and) ... They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” Should you think all Democrats are class- and race-baiters?
Gee, I learned in elementary school not to hold the words of one person against another. But political strategists, hoping to tap into the worst in human nature, have found a home for their ugly tales with undiscerning campaign reporters who with hypercritical fervor glom onto any and all controversies, preferring them to stories of substance.
What’s worse is that, when questioned, the straight-faced reporter defends the insipid stories as important for voters to know. Do they think we are that stupid?
The New York Times, Reuters, Vanity Fair and the Internet site The Huffington Post recently revealed they have engaged in the controversial policy of letting political strategists approve and tweak their own quotes before publication. And local reporters in swing states say they have had to agree to stay away from certain topics before being granted a coveted one-on-one interview with either President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Since when did reporters so openly agree to be used by the candidates? It’s journalism 101 to refuse to play such dishonest games. It turns my stomach.
Some in the media are catching on and wising up. National Public Radio’s Capitol Hill reporter, Andrea Seabrook, says that after 14 years on the beat she realized she was “actually sort of colluding with the politicians themselves.”
Seabrook says she couldn’t participate in the game anymore because she felt she was “lied to every day, all day.” So, she quit her job. I salute her bravery in standing up for ethical of journalism.
So many reporters seem to have forgotten that we are supposed to report the truth and not simply parrot calculating politicians.
White House correspondent Jake Tapper of ABC News hasn’t forgotten. He recently made a stunning public acknowledgement about this year’s political coverage, saying, “The media is failing the country.”
MSNBC’s political analyst Mark Halprin, asked about Romney’s refusal to release any more tax returns, declared, “The media are very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this.”
Again, I’m not here to pick a side or to even talk about media bias for one political party or the other. I’m here to say that at a crucial time in our nation’s history, the media are cheating you out of meaningful information that could help you make a critical decision about who should be our next president.
This is a challenge to every news executive out there. Stick to the stories that matter. Get your reporters back on track, and refuse to be used in this obviously partisan political sport. This isn’t a game anymore. The future of the country depends on a clear, undistracted focus on our monumental problems and who is best to help us back away from the cliff.