Partisan campaign violence and intimidation are worrying, especially when elected leaders remain silent. It's as if Republicans know the radical fringe could turn on them.
Egregious examples are Tea Party favorites. Given public perceptions of Tea Party power, that suggests the next two years will be ugly as reporters try to elicit useful information from Republican winners, candidates and operatives.
An aide to Joe Miller, running for Senate in Alaska, handcuffed a reporter who tried to ask the candidate a question at a public event. It’s not clear who won the election (there's a recount currently going on), but the Miller handler’s message wasn’t lost on Tea Party candidates or reporters: They can get away with this response to working journalists whom they perceive to be the enemy.
Delaware’s constitutionally-ignorant Christine O’Donnell, another Tea Party favorite who lost her bid for the Senate, (unsuccessfully) threatened to sue WDEL-AM if it posted her on-the-record interview online.
It didn’t involve a reporter, but Tea Party’s successful Kentucky poster boy, Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, had to disown a campaign worker who stepped on a nonviolent demonstrator after she was knocked down. “Stomped” is too strong, but the worker's action was clearly aggressive.
Then there are candidates who literally flee from inquisitive journalists. Most notorious was Sharron Angel, who lost to incumbent Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada. She fled or refused to talk to reporters who were not in her camp. Fox News was a favored outlet for this Tea Party candidate.
Candidates and politicians needn’t talk to the news media. They can pick and choose or stonewall, but we have a duty to ask even if there is a growing public impatience with pushy reporters (As Seen On TV) and fading voter expectations of candor from elected and appointed officials. I’m also unsure whether avoiding or abusing the news media is a poor political tactic, given how more Americans appear to be turning to cable TV and radio talk shows that confirm their biases.
If ignoring or abusing the news media stokes supporters’ anger, fear and activism, it might be smart partisan politics ... just like low-key violence that draw tacit candidate or party acceptance. We’ve seen it — especially on the political Right — for the past quarter century.
Talk show hosts, especially, demonize the news media. These GOP opinion leaders quite reasonably want their listeners and viewers to distrust anyone who challenges their views, distortions, errors and lies. The value of civility barely rates discussion and hardly is a memory.
Newspaper efforts to debunk political deception and lying rants and commercials make journalists feel better but these thoughtful analyses are spitting into the wind. Call Sean, Rush or Glenn on what they say, and it only proves to their viewers that the mainstream news media are biased.
Reporters-as-enemy is proving to be a good strategy. Most Americans get their “news” from broadcast or cable TV, and it’s such predictably thin gruel that hardly anyone asks, “Please sir, may I have some more?”
• Anyone who follows Enquirer sportswriter John Erardi knows how much he enjoys and knows his subjects. It never was clearer than his reporting and commentary after Sparky Anderson’s recent death. If you missed it, go back and read it. I was lucky to work with John, and much of what was said about Anderson the man and professional could be said of Erardi.
• When the butt-ugly pastel DAAP building went up at UC to the ooohs and aaaahs of local aesthetes and cognoscenti, only a sign advertising beds by the hour was missing. Now a zillion dollars will be spent to fix longstanding construction problems. Will any reporter tell us who approved its design, materials, construction and steady deterioration?
• Beyond the over-the-top local media anticipation of Monday night’s ESPN broadcast of the Bengals-Steelers game, the latest example of tasteless Cincinnati architecture was revealed shamelessly to the world: the lighted tit on top of the Great American Tower. All we need is another to go with P&G’s Dolly Partons.
• Election night showed the strength of NPR when measured against other networks. Public radio deployed its staff and drew on similarly able colleagues at NPR affiliates to cover races in their regions.
• UC’s student paper, The News Record, had many key election results Wednesday morning. Impressive. Now publishing three times a week, election night wasn’t a special edition and it wasn’t an ordinary effort. “We were in the office a good while,” Gin A. Ando, editor-in-chief, said in an email. “I went to sleep around 3 a.m., so yeah, we printed later.” Three of my former or present students contributed to the Page 1 coverage.
• It’s good news and good news. I can watch local TV news again, secure in the knowledge that the vicious blather of the past few weeks ended with Tuesday’s vote. And I know that these awful, insulting, offensive and nauseous campaign ads provided local broadcasters with lots of money. Most of the estimated $4 billion spent nationally on the campaigns went for TV. Very little went to papers. Too bad. It didn’t improve TV, and it didn’t help dailies or weeklies.
If the GOP’s goal is to indulge cynicism about our political process and to suppress voter participation, TV ads were the perfect vehicle, especially with local TV’s paucity of substantive election issues coverage. Pissy crimes get more nightly coverage than campaigns for state and federal offices on Cincinnati-area commercial TV news. But that’s not news. It’s no better after local, state and federal elections on local TV news.
• Voters say they wanted to throw out career politicians and Beltway insiders. So why did they return Steve Chabot for an eighth term in Congress? Like speaker-in-waiting John Boehner, he was among the spend-and-borrow Republicans during W’s administration. (I owe that phrase to Bill Cunningham, whose faux rage ranges from “tax and spend Democrats” to “tax and borrow Republicans.”) Did reporters forget to press them on their roles in creating our national debt?
• Peter Orszag’s Nov. 4 essay on The New York Times op-ed page is a model of clarity as he suggests why repealing the Democrats’ health care reform law would undo GOP promises to contain medical costs. It’s analytical rather than polemics or apologetics, and it begins with the political reality that the early House version framed the argument rather than the final version with its increased attention to costs and quality of health care.
• Education historian and scholar Diane Ravitch — once fan of private school vouchers in the Education Department of George H. W. Bush — appears to have had a Road to Damascus revelation. She rips the new film, Waiting for Superman, and its slanted, selective praise of charter schools and bashing of public schools, their teachers and teachers‘ unions. Her Nov. 11 essay in The New York Review on "The Myth of Charter Schools" is loaded with rebuttal data and sorrow that failed conservative attacks on public education have become liberal, elite conventional wisdom.
• Good luck to Dems trying to find a narrative that will match the fear and anger essential to the GOP. AM radio and cable TV are perfect for the Republicans. Even if some audiences are relatively small, the influence of talk show hosts’ vitriol is broad. Too many gunshy mainstream media dance to the cable tune, reflecting an anxiety about being tarred with the L Word (as in Liberal) if they don’t report what cable hosts say and do. On the other hand, it requires little or no effort to report what cable and Internet folks say and do.
• Most stories I heard and read about leftwing MSNBC briefly suspending host Keith Olbermann said it was for making partisan political contributions in the just-ended election. That’s not what parent NBC said. Its ethics policy allows contributions with prior approval from the president of NBC news. Olbermann didn’t ask. Reporting shorthand also misses point that alone among the major broadcast networks NBC allows political contributions.
• It’s asking too much of readers, viewers and listeners to believe we can report at arms-length on candidates to whom journalists give money. The Enquirer once fired a local polling organization when its boss donated to a politician’s campaign. While chump change in the world of campaign finance, that partisan contribution fatally undermined the paper’s confidence in the pollster’s objectivity. Olbermann’s value to MSNBC is as a purveyor of opinion. He can speak well of anyone he likes if he tells us why, but Olbermann also should tell us if he’s also backing the objects of his praise.
• I read it in The Los Angeles Times, but the story is perfect for smarter and less formulaic coverage of Tristate hunting injuries and deaths: Tree stands are more dangerous to hunters than guns, drugs or alcohol. “Falls, not firearms, are responsible for a significant proportion of hunting-related injuries,’” says Dr. Charles Cook, a trauma surgeon at Ohio State’s Medical Center and also lead author of the study. According to OSU, Cook and colleagues “identified 130 patients who suffered hunting-related injuries. Fifty percent of injuries resulted from falls and 92 percent of the falls were from tree stands, whereas 29 percent of the injuries were attributed to gunshot wounds. Fifty-eight percent of the gunshot wounds were self-inflicted and 42 percent of the patients were shot by another hunter. Alcohol was involved in only 2.3 percent of the cases and drug abuse accounted for 4.6 percent. The level of severity for tree stand falls was quite high with 59 percent of the victims suffering fractures, 47 percent experienced lower extremity fractures (ankles, legs), fractures to upper extremities (shoulders, arms, wrists) accounted for 18 percent of the injuries, and 18 percent of fall victims sustained closed head injuries. Surgery was required for 81 percent of fall-related injuries and 8.2 percent of the victims suffered permanent neurological damage.”
• I love it when the national press catches up to small partisan journals’ rejection of the conventional wisdom. In September, I wrote that The Nation raised serious questions about the Iranian claim that three American hikers knowingly crossed into Iran as spies. Most news media reported the border crossing as fact. The Nation said the trio probably was captured inside Iraq, not Iran. Now The New York Times also is raising questions about how the trio entered Iran although it disagrees with The Nation. The Times quotes Sarah E. Shourd as saying she and two companions stepped off an unmarked dirt road — inadvertently crossing from Iraq into Iran — only because a border guard of unknown nationality gestured for them to approach. Eventually, Shourd was released; her male companions remain in prison, awaiting trial. The Times said Shourd, 32, approached the paper, hoping to correct what she said was the gathering false impression, fueled by a classified United States military report made public last week by WikiLeaks, as well as earlier American and British news reports, that the hikers were detained inside Iraq and forced across the border. When they approached the armed border guard who had gestured to them, “He pointed to the ground and said ‘Iran’ and pointed to the trail we had been on before he waved to us, then said ‘Iraq,’” Ms. Shourd said. “We did not actually enter Iran until he gestured to us. We were confused and worried and wanted to go back.”
• Frontline, the PBS public affairs program, screwed up big time. Michael Getler, the PBS ombuds, tells the story: “Every reporter and editor knows that you should not take the answer to one question and make it appear as though it is the answer to another question. That's just fundamental journalistic ethics.
“Yet that's what ... Frontline did ... in an interview with the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, David J. Hayes. The interview was included in ‘The Spill,’ an investigation of oil giant BP that aired on Oct. 26.” After initially defending the dishonest manipulation, Frontline Senior Editor Ken Dornstein wrote a grudging mea culpa to Matt Lee-Ashley, director of communications at Interior:
“‘At issue here, we believe, is whether Frontline fairly and accurately represented the views of Deputy Secretary Hayes and the Department of Interior. We maintain that we did. However, in carefully reviewing the editing decisions in this case again, we have now concluded that using the second answer from later in the interview was not consistent with our past practices. So, even if the result was fair to Secretary Hayes, it's not a precedent we want to set. We are going to re-cut this exchange to restore Hayes' original answer to [producer/reporter Martin] Smith's question. We will post this version on our web site, along with an editor's note, and include it in all future broadcasts."
• I wondered recently in this column whether scandal of American medical experimenters infecting Guatamalans with sexually transmitted diseases would spark an interest here in what appears to be ongoing and scientifically and ethically suspect malariotherapy by Henry Heimlich and his Deaconess-related Heimlich Institute. I’ve seen/heard none and Heimlich’s son, Peter, who opposes his father’s foreign malariotherapy experiments, says he received no responses to his offers to aid Cincinnati news media — including CityBeat — on this story. Malariotherapy is based on the belief that malarial fevers can kill the virus that causes AIDS.
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]