The Press’ Job

It isn’t to give each politician in a debate an equal shake (“fairness”) — it’s to dispassionately elicit information that will help a rational voter make an informed, rational decision (“neutrality”).

Given that, I’m not sure that it’s fair to criticize moderators of the Coons/O’Donnell debate for being “in the tank” for the Democrat. As an objective matter, what, as a stateswoman, does O’Donnell bring to the table? A spate of policy positions she purports to hold? That’s hardly a qualification for public office, and the press are within their rights to point that out. We can tease “Yellow Dog Democrats,” but the post-Palin era seems to reward, or at least sanction, empty vessel Republicans. That may be enough for your average red [animal]* Republican, but the press oughtn’t be in the business of treating those types of candidates with respect, just because they’ve filled out some paper and won a nomination.

The same principle applies to the Greene/DeMint race. DeMint is crazy. It’s true. But Greene is crazier too, albeit in different, fascinating ways. Do we actually expect the press to treat Greene as if he’s on the same plane of existence as his opponent?

* = animal omitted for now. Any recommendations?

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28 comments

  1. “…but the press oughtn’t be in the business of treating those types of candidates with respect, just because they’ve filled out some paper and won a nomination.”

    Elitism much?

    1. I thought putting politicians on a pedistal was elitist.

      1. I don’t call ‘treating candidates with respect’ a pedestal. I call it decency. Ames’ contention that winning a primary is irrelevant makes me wonder if winning a general election is also pointless. If the answer is that respect must be earned, is this through talent, smarts or achievement? Ames also says that a ‘spate of policy positions’ isn’t enough…so I’m curious as to what is?

        1. Having an actual chance of winning their race, maybe?

          1. So then Ross Perot wasn’t a ‘serious candidate’?

            And at what point do you determine their chances (thus justifying respectful media coverage)? Barrack Obama circa November 2007 didn’t look like he had a chance in the world of even securing the nomination, let alone the Presidency.

          2. Then again, he’s more intelligent than, and has never desired to turn someone else into, a toad. Neither can be said of O’Donnell.

            Haha that’s a cheap shot, see below.

        2. I saw a fair part of the debate in question. The moderators were respectful. They also pressed O’Donnell on her many dodges and weaves. That’s their job.

          The Corner seems to consider making politicians stop dodging and weaving (or at least highlighting the D & W) being “in the tank” for the other guy.

    2. Yes, this is partly a shot at O’Donnell, shame shame and all.

      But I wish we could further the conversation on the main point of that sentence, on whether the press is fulfilling it’s role in vetting, critiquing, potential politicians on policy and how they will act in their role.

      (And the press’ obsession with masturbation and witchcraft is also a distraction from that)

    3. Just curious, Mike: what, exactly, is bad about holding those who would lead to a high standard?

      1. There’s a difference between ‘high standsrds’ and ‘respect’. My original comment was a direct reaction to Ames’ contention that respect is not required.

        1. Why do you think respect is, or should be, required? It seems to me that respect is something that must be earned.

          1. The press’ job is to present facts, not judgements. If they let their opinions of the candidate influence their coverage, then they have failed.

            Ames’ original premise was this: “…but the press oughtn’t be in the business of treating those types of candidates with respect, just because they’ve filled out some paper and won a nomination.”

            Maybe we need a better explanation of what that ‘respect’ would entail. He already states that they should be neutral, thus their respect or lack thereof should be irrelevant. But if they DO respect a candidate, how would that manifest itself in their coverage?

            1. [pedant]But judgments are the only things humans are capable of reporting.[/pedant]

              In all seriousness, though: it seems to me that showing “respect” for, in this case, O’Donnell would require that the press ignore the facts on the ground, viz.: O’Donnell is crazier than a shithouse rat and lacks the critical reasoning ability of a stoned college freshman.

              Here I disagree with our host: It is not, and cannot be, the job of the press to be neutral. It is the job of the press to report, to the best of their abilities, on the facts. This is, it seems to me, not something people can do without making accompanying judgments. Judging is, after all, in large part what our consciousness does.

              Now, here’s how I interpreted our host’s claim that the press doesn’t need to “respect” people like O’Donnell: In ordinary usage, to “respect” some person means something like “not being mean to” that person. As one of the adorable talking animals from Bambi said, “If you can’t say nything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Thus, at least as I read it, for the press to “respect” O’Donnell would be for the press to treat her as a serious candidate by committing lots and lots of lies by omission.

              Also, she turned me into a newt. (I got better.)

        2. And, I should add, that “respect” comes in many forms, each of which is earned differently. So, let’s confine our discussion here, if you don’t mind, to “respecting someone as a candidate for office”.

  2. I would ask for a modicum of seriousness. Is there any indication that O’Donnell has that?

    1. You’re going to have to be more specific – what kind of seriousness? Intent fo serve the voters well? Serious talent? Serious proven ability as a leader? Serious policy proposals?

    2. To frame this sort of amorphous discussion, do you think of Christine as “serious”?

      1. My opinion isn’t relevant because I wasn’t the one who dictated the ‘serious’ requirement.

      2. Isn’t it, though? If you agree that she’s not serious, we can talk about where we agree and work towards a definition.

        1. No – it’s not. I don’t maintain the seriousness requirement for candidates, therefore my assessment of this specific candidate is irrelvant. Since you DO have that requirement, I think it would be interesting to hear your criteria.

  3. So then Ross Perot wasn’t a ‘serious candidate’?

    Sure, Perot was a serious candidate at least up until I’d say July or August 1992. After then, perhaps not so much. And I’m pretty sure the media coverage dropped off somewhat after that point.

    More generally, the only qualification for public office as far as I’m concerned is getting a plurality of the votes. The problem with O’Donnell is that she does not fulfill that requirement, nor is she going to. That means the DE race is simply not particularly interesting, any more than the races in OK or KS are – they’re not competitive. The only potentially relevant journalistic angle is that Tea Party-mania led the DE Republicans to run an unelectable candidate, and this may turn out to cost the GOP a Senate victory nationwide.

    But – assuming that he job of the press is to report issues that are relevant to the public – the strong media focus on O’Donnell beyond that is a serious problem, because every minute that they spend on Delaware is a minute that’s not spent on races that actually are competitive and matter on a national scale, such as IL, WV or CO.

    I mean, how much screen time are Michael Bennet and Ken Buck getting compared to O’Donnell? I obviously don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s not a whole lot. And isn’t it disrespectful towards the electorate to assume they’d rather be told about pretty young women who won’t get elected?

    1. I bet if you ask Bush Sr. he will say that Perot was a serious candidate right up to the moment that Bush lost the election. In that respect TR was a serious candidate right up to the point that Taft lost re-election and maybe even Nader was a serious candidate right up until the point that Al Gore lost.

      As for the media and O’Donnell’s campaign, it’s an interesting story because it is another litmus test for a very young Tea Party Movement that is about to go through its first election. The media has their own self-interest in mind with promoting this story. She’s interesting and in a Machivellian way, if she is elected it will sell more papaers than if she fades away (this is why Michelle Bachman is a favorite topic on MSNBC). It might not be respectful towards voters but Ames’ post was about the media’s respect of candidates.

      1. Granted, there’s the issue of wasted votes in a three-party race. But that’s clearly not an angle in Delaware either.

        Broadcasting hopeless candidates on national TV while ignoring actually competitive ones is not what I’d call respectful, anyway – whether towards the hopeless or the competitive ones.

        1. I think maybe you under-estimate the competiveness of certain races. For example, in March Linda McMahon went from 7 points down to lead by 10 points. Now she is down 9 points in the polls. I was just hearing yesterday that a lot of women in Deleware are getting upset with the way O’Donnell is being treated. It would not be impossible for her to come back, especially since she is playing the game well. The suggestion that the race is ‘hopeless’ may be a bit of hyperbole. I’ll admit is a longshot and I personally don’t agree with O’Donnell on much, but I respect where she is and the media should (in my opinion) respect her candidacy as well.

          1. An unexperienced candidate catching up on a 20-point lead in less than two weeks would be a miracle. I don’t see that happening unless it’s suddenly revealed that Coons has been producing Soylent Green in his basement or something.

            But should that happen, then sure, the national media can talk about her all they want, because then the race will be relevant again. I’m just saying, until that time maybe they should focus on things that matter to the 309 million non-Delawarian Americans.

            There are even other Tea Party candidates out there that are much more interesting. Sharon Angle in NV most of all, but also the three-way race in AK or, as mentioned, Ken Buck in CO.

            1. Personally I see pretty even coverage on most of the interesting races. They are even covering races where the Republican candidate is well ahead, like here in KY. O’Donnell’s appeal is beyond the political punditry though. She’s on SNL for God’s sake. That officially qualifies her as a topic of pop culture. Sort of like Palin. Once that happens you can’t use normal criteria for determining media interest.

              1. Personally I see pretty even coverage on most of the interesting races.

                Well, that’s reassuring at least.

    2. Oh man, Ken Buck. I wish that loon was getting way more exposure. If Buck wins, lack of critical exposure will be the cause (with a helping of disgruntled Democrats cutting of their noses to spite their faces by not voting for Bennet because they’re mad Romanoff lost the primary).

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