When I hear it, the first thing I think of is a mainstream news reporter, anchor, or correspondent who, ideally, should be delivering bias-free news. The impressions I get from people I talk to about journalism both online and elsewhere are that they believe similarly.
Well, today I’ve learned that the definition of “journalist” has been expanded to include … writers for left wing publications and bloggers. Yes, the uproar over how poorly Barack Obama was supposedly treated in the Wednesday night ABC News debate has gotten so loud that these “journalists” have written a letter to ABC criticizing them for treating Obama like the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president.
The first clue that the definition of the word “journalist” had been updated was seeing that the letter was posted to and signed by the liberal Nation opinion outlet, which hilariously claims on their “about” page to not be “the organ of any party.” Here’s what the letter stated:
We, the undersigned, deplore the conduct of ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson at the Democratic Presidential debate on April 16. The debate was a revolting descent into tabloid journalism and a gross disservice to Americans concerned about the great issues facing the nation and the world. This is not the first Democratic or Republican presidential debate to emphasize gotcha questions over real discussion. However, it is, so far, the worst.
While I would agree that there have definitely been Republican presidential debates where gotcha questions were thrown out there – Chris Matthews’ horrible moderating of an early Republican debate last spring comes to mind – I don’t recall the Nation and “journalists” from other left wing publications going off on MSNBC and pushing letter writing campaigns and boycotts and petitions on a daily basis. Apparently it is only journalistic malpractice of epic proportions when it happens to a liberal candidate one who, like many of his supporters, whines when he doesn’t get pitched softballs.
For 53 minutes, we heard no question about public policy from either moderator. ABC seemed less interested in provoking serious discussion than in trying to generate cheap shot sound-bites for later rebroadcast. The questions asked by Mr. Stephanopoulos and Mr. Gibson were a disgrace, and the subsequent attempts to justify them by claiming that they reflect citizens’ interest are an insult to the intelligence of those citizens and ABC’s viewers. Many thousands of those viewers have already written to ABC to express their outrage.
Oh, lemme guess what the political affiliations were/are for those “outraged viewers” and furthermore, which candidate they support? Not rocket science.
The moderators’ occasional later forays into substance were nearly as bad. Mr. Gibson’s claim that the government can raise revenues by cutting capital gains tax is grossly at odds with what taxation experts believe. Both candidates tried, repeatedly, to bring debate back to the real problems faced by ordinary Americans. Neither moderator allowed them to do this.
Funny, but I don’t believe we’ve heard Hillary Clinton nor her campaign complain about how Wednesday’s debate went, but apparently these “journalists” – in a transparent attempt to appear “fair” to both candidates, make it out like Hillary has been just as upset about the directions the debate went.
We’re at a crucial moment in our country’s history, facing war, a terrorism threat, recession, and a range of big domestic challenges. Large majorities of our fellow Americans tell pollsters they’re deeply worried about the country’s direction. In such a context, journalists moderating a debate–who are, after all, entrusted with free public airwaves –have a particular responsibility to push and engage the candidates in serious debate about these matters. Tough, probing questions on these issues clearly serve the public interest. Demands that candidates make pledges about a future no one can predict or excessive emphasis on tangential “character” issues do not. This applies to candidates of both parties.
Translation: Watch out how you treat popular Democrats or we might take this to the Democrat-controlled Congress, who have shown before how quickly they’ll resort to threats when a network portrays them in an unflattering light. Oh, and by the way, who the hell cares about this thing called “character” anyway?
Neither Mr. Gibson nor Mr. Stephanopoulos lived up to these responsibilities. In the words of Tom Shales of the Washington Post, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Stephanopoulos turned in “shoddy, despicable performances.” As Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher describes it, the debate was a “travesty.” We hope that the public uproar over ABC’s miserable showing will encourage a return to serious journalism in debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees this fall. Anything less would be a betrayal of the basic responsibilities that journalists owe to their public.
Two things: Tom Shales is a TV critic and is, well, supposed to be critical about many things on TV. As far as Mitchell? Well pretty much all you need to know about his journalistic “creds” can be read here.
Tom Maguire is on the same wavelength over the letter’s use of the word “journalist” to describe the signatories:
It’s a long list of signatures, but there are precious few of what would normally be considered actual journalists, and many, many left wing bloggers and advocates passing themselves, for today’s purposes, as “media analysts”.
Scroll down the list at Tom’s link. You’ll recognize many of the names of the blogs/publications. I guess technically they could be considered “journalists” in the sense that they research, interview, and get paid for what they write, in the traditional sense, the average Joe thinks of a mainstream journalists like ABC’s Jake Tapper and Fox News’ Major Garrett. These types of journalists are on the opposite end of the jouralistic spectrum than the left wing “journalists” who signed the letter, a few of who aren’t afraid to abandon “serious journalism” when it suits their purposes, as Mary Katharine Ham notes here.
Then again, perhaps the “undersigned” in the letter are just upset that Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos weren’t as left wing in their moderating duties as they are in their scribblings.
I swear, you just can’t make this stuff up.