I was always told the media should never be part of the story.
That certainly wasn’t the case over the last few months as the “mainstream” media certainly became part of the presidential race.
I’m not 100 percent sure what constitutes “mainstream” media, but it’s probably not the majority of links to obscure websites you see posted on Facebook with breaking stories about how President-elect Donald Trump killed a kitten when he was 3 years old, or how his opponent, Hillary Clinton, once made chili out of puppies and fed it to a group of school children.
Gone are the days of Americans gathering in front of the television at 6 p.m. to watch Walter Cronkite tell us the day’s news, or waking up with a cup of coffee and the newspaper delivered to the front door by the ambitious teen up the street.
Now, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can start a blog and call it a news site, and the news cycle, thanks to social media and the cell phone, is 24-seven. The only deadline to meet anymore is to get it online as quick as possible.
Objectivity, the hallmark of journalism, has also seemingly joined the graveyard along with the once storied printing press. The New York Times is known for leaning left in its coverage of the news and in its editorial positions. The New York Post – which has the best headlines – is just the opposite. CNN is known as the “Clinton News Network” while Fox decidedly leans right in its coverage and its analysis.
I guess that’s nothing new, and the reputations are more than justified, but it seems more pervasive now than it was 20 years ago. The Fourth Estate, safe to say, is taking a beating.
Still, I bristle when I hear the media, as an institution, getting bashed by one side or the other as inherently biased. I’m sorry to say, though, I guess we deserve it.
Obviously, working at a weekly newspaper in upstate is a different league than those moderating a presidential debate, but it was evident when Lester Holt started out one of the head-to-heads with a question for Trump that began something along the lines of how great America was doing under President Obama.
Trump’s slogan was “Make America Great Again,” so I interpreted Holt’s commentary as a cheap shot and an effort to undermine Trump’s entire argument. Also, I watched the returns on NBC and I could not help but think if the numbers were reversed the reporters and anchors there would have called it for Clinton at around midnight. Instead, they waited until around 3 a.m. and really didn’t call it for Trump until Clinton conceded.
There is a dump truck of reasons to not like Trump, some personal and some for reasons more relevant to public policy and the office he, at the time, wanted to hold. But Holt was supposed to be an impartial moderator.
Trump made bashing the media a center point of his campaign, and his followers quickly took up the cause.
I covered his event at the Times Union Center and former gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino introduced him, in part, by pointing at the press podium and saying “see all those people, they are the enemy,” or some such rubbish.
Trump blamed the media for covering everything from his bankruptcies, to his tax issue, to his “locker room talk” to his appalling comments about race, the disabled and immigrants to the fact his wife, and potential first lady, posed nude. The media didn’t make any of that up, they are all legitimate stories worthy of some ink.
A classic case of shooting the messenger.
On the flip side, I was talking to a Hillary supporter about how her candidate stole the primary from Bernie Sanders, and how I thought the former first lady was the sole reason we now have a Trump presidency. She blamed the media for how the primary was covered – including the fact Hillary stole it – and its coverage of Benghazi, the email scandal and the Clinton Foundation for the loss.
I was kind of surprised, but I guess, in journalism, as the old saying goes, if you upset both sides you are doing your job. So, I’d like to think, just maybe the media didn’t do a bad job covering the election after all.
Earlier I said there are a host of personal reasons to dislike Trump, and there are nearly as many to dislike Clinton.
Those working in the media are people too, so they have the same biases as every other person. The trick, I was taught, is to recognize them and remove them from whatever story you are covering at the time.
I was also taught, or perhaps learned the hard way, to keep my prejudices to myself, especially when working as a reporter. It’s a little different working as a columnist, but as staffs become smaller with less people doing the same amount of work, the hard and fast line between the editorial department and the newsroom is becoming more and more blurred.
That said, though, I have not been enrolled in any political party in years and would not drive around with a “Bernie” sticker on my car, though I would have voted for him earlier this month.
Most people I know in this business are in it for all the right reasons – to keep politicians in check, to give a voice to those who have none and to inform the public.
The good ones place personal views secondary to those objectives.
Jim Franco has covered the Capital District for more than 20 years. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 878-1000.