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November 23, 2015

The State of the Media

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

The national news media claims to be under assault by the Republican candidates for the presidency. There’s no question that GOP candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson and others see benefit in forwarding a dialogue about the lack of fairness in how Republican candidates are covered versus the more favorable reporting on Democrats.


But the real question is whether there really is a “war on journalism” or not.


Since he first announced, Donald Trump has been ignored as a viable candidate by the Huffington Post. In fact, since his announcement, HuffPo editors have relegated almost all Trump presidential campaign coverage to their paper’s entertainment section.


How a newspaper considers Mr. Trump entertainment but the O’Malley candidacy real news is beyond me.


That aside, the decision is reflective of a larger issue. Going back to Dan Rather of the CBS Evening News, national journalists can’t seem to help putting themselves into the story. Mr. Rather and his producer, Mary Mapes, did a spectacularly bad job of their attempt to destroy President George W. Bush over falsified National Guard records. Hollywood has given us a new film called Truth, an attempt to cast Rather/Mapes as victims, since after all, all they really did was try to damage a national leader the major media hated anyway.


More recently, NBC’s Brian Williams took inventive news reporting to dizzying new heights. In a sort-of Forrest Gump take on the news, Mr. Williams conveniently forgot the difference of where he had been versus where he’d wished he had been.


The news media has now focused their energy on vilifying Donald Trump and Ben Carson. There are no doubt others in the field that would normally draw negative attention from the media, but Donald Trump and Dr. Carson draw the most scrutiny.


Why? Because they don’t fit the mold, that’s why.


They’re not Ivy League-educated, Georgetown cocktail party candidates. They haven’t developed decades of cozy, bourbon-fueled background source relationships that grant name journalists like Bob Woodward, Andrea Mitchell or the network news anchors’ exclusives on breaking news.


These two speak in the language of the corner bar, not the Capitol Hill steakhouse. What do we need a national news journalist’s interpretive service for if we can easily and perfectly understand the statements of our candidates?


In a very recent example of this problem, Dr. Carson traveled to New Hampshire to file his statement of candidacy with the State Elections Board to appear on the primary ballot. After concluding his mandatory paperwork, Dr. Carson decided to take a few questions from the assembled reporters.


His first few questions dealt with his potentially inarticulate analogy about rabid dogs. He had made a comment about the dangers of allowing potential terrorists into the county along with legitimate refuges from Syria. In his simplistic analogy, he mentioned that a parent, armed with the knowledge that a rabid dog was loose, wouldn’t let their children to go out to play. Even if they were normally dog-lovers, a responsible parent would want to know the coast was clear before allowing their children outside. Reporters, seizing a chance to embarrass him, asked him if he thought Muslims would be offended since he referred to them as rabid dogs.


As is his style, Dr. Carson softly and carefully explained that he did not call Muslims rabid dogs, but merely made an analogy about the prudent course of action when people sense danger. You can literally hear a reporter say “oh, sure” after his explanation.


Then, and for the remaining time the candidate took questions, reporters from national news outlets and local New Hamphire papers then tried to get Dr. Carson to comment on statements made by his opponents. Donald Trump had talked about maintaining a database of Muslims, although it wasn’t clear if that database was meant to cover refugees or practitioners of the larger faith. Several times, Mr. Carson suggested that reporters really should be questioning Candidate Trump on his own statements, not bothering Mr. Carson about it.


One enterprising writer then shouted out a question about a statement from an alleged Carson campaign worker that disparaged the doctor’s knowledge of foreign affairs. Again, with his gentle tone and soft-spoken manner, Dr. Carson said that the person named was not a campaign worker, had never worked on the campaign, had only been in two meetings with him and had no influence on campaign policy.


A clear explanation to the question about why these outsider candidates are doing so well this year might just be answered by the people who normally do the asking. Is it a surprise that the only entity in the political process with a lower public approval rating than Congress is the press?


The state of the media is sad, if not bankrupt, when it comes to fairness and equity in the political process. The only good news is that the average American is already well aware of that which the media seems completely ignorant.


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