Friday, September 5, 2008

The TV News Media: Friend or Foe?

It’s hard to get away from politics these days. With the both the Democratic and Republican conventions occurring in the past two weeks, television viewers have been inundated with news about the candidates and their running mates. I am somewhat of a news junkie, and while I don’t sit glued to CNN or MSNBC or Fox news as a rule, I do make sure that I check news sites many times during the day for updates. And I for one am grateful not only for the Internet to deliver timely news, but also for the TV media's dogged coverage of politics. Sure, sometimes when there isn’t much news to report, they tend to throw in celebrity news that really isn’t news at all, but I suppose one must sometimes take the bad with the good.

With the announcement of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate, the Republicans got what they wanted – to knock the news of Barack Obama’s DNC speech off the air and put the Republicans back on top of the news. The problem is, they got too much of what they wanted when the media took Governor Sarah Palin and put her under their microscope. This is the double-edged sword that politicians must deal with. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, and it won’t change any time soon.

The extensive television coverage that Palin received resulted in a jab being thrown, by her, at the media during her acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention, when she said (quoted from the transcript) “But here's a little news flash for all those reporters and commentators: I'm not going to Washington to seek their good opinion. I'm going to Washington to serve the people of this country. Americans expect us to go to Washington for the right reasons, and not just to mingle with the right people.” Other republican pundits have been crying foul over what they perceive is harsh treatment of Sarah Palin and her family by the media.

I am not quite sure what their problem is – they wanted coverage, and they got it. Sure, it wasn’t the coverage they needed, but they got it just the same. I had already gone on record on one of my other blogs (here) that children should be off limits (unless they chose to be involved) in a parent’s political campaign. But, that doesn’t mean that the media doesn’t have the right to question and grill the candidate themselves on the issues that are important and relevant to the job.

It seems that now the McCain campaign is using the extensive media coverage of Palin’s family as an excuse to keep her under a proverbial lock and key. It seems that there has been virtually no media access to Palin at all since she was announced as McCain's running mate. And after her swipe at the media during her speech, the media may be showing its annoyance. For example, on MSNBC, Nicole Wallace (insert chuckle from Law & Order Criminal Intent fans here) of the McCain campaign was on MSNBC. She was in a discussion with Time Magazine’s Jay Carney on Palin’s speech and we get this dialog (video also below):

CARNEY: We don't know yet and we won't know until you guys allow her to take questions, you know, can she answer tough questions, you know, domestic policy, foreign policy--

WALLACE: But I mean like from who? From you? Who cares?!

CARNEY: Who cares? I think the American people care.

WALLACE: I think the American people want to see her -- I mean who cares if she can talk to Time Magazine? She talked to the American people. The American people want to say, "How am I going to save my home?" She can answer that question. ... She took the stage and talked to the American people about things they care about: How they're gonna save their homes.

It is clear that Carney is frustrated that Palin is not being made accessible, and he wrote about it (full text below), saying that “According to Wallace…the American people will learn all they need to know (and all they deserve to know) from Palin's scripted speeches and choreographed appearances on the campaign trail and in campaign ads.”

At this point, I am sure both television media and print media are like sharks who smell blood in the water. If anything, this apparent sequestering of Palin only makes the media more curious that she has something to hide, or is weak on certain issues and requires extensive preparation for her to be able to talk intelligently on issues, such as the economy. And with television news outlets like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox who have 24 hours of television time to fill, if they can’t fill it with anything they get directly from Palin, they will go out and dig it up for themselves via other sources. In a way, that is what makes the television news media so great, at the same time making them something to fear.

I for one am grateful for the service that the news media performs. And while the 24-hour TV coverage sometimes means that they have to fill holes will things that really aren’t meaningful, I may not like it, but there’s nothing preventing me from changing the channel. In the case of political coverage, though, television news is invaluable, in that it is the equivalent of having thousands of eyes and ears looking at what is happening in politics all around the country at all times. It’s a great improvement over what I experienced in the 1960s as a kid, when there was only a small time slot for national news in the evening, and everything was carefully choreographed and scripted, and sometimes days late (if it was reported at all). But these days, TV news – as well as the print and Internet media – have the upper hand because they can react and report with virtual lightning speed to millions and millions of viewers. So the lesson is clear: politicians should take great care when they try to manage the media to their own advantage, and they should be careful what they ask for – because they just might get it. And never bits the hand that feeds you.

As I mentioned above, Jay Carney wrote his own piece on the MSNBC matter; here it is:

No Questions, Please. We'll Tell You What You Need To Know.
September 4, 2008 5:07
Posted by Jay Carney

According to Nicole Wallace of the McCain campaign, the American people don't care whether Sarah Palin can answer specific questions about foreign and domestic policy. According to Wallace -- in an appearance I did with her this morning on Joe Scarborough's show -- the American people will learn all they need to know (and all they deserve to know) from Palin's scripted speeches and choreographed appearances on the campaign trail and in campaign ads. Here's the exchange:

Wallace's bash-the-media exercise has its merits as a campaign tactic. It certainly rallies the base. But the base won't lift McCain to 50% in November. More importantly, in her smug dismissal of the media's role in asking questions of the candidates, Wallace was really showing contempt not for reporters, but for voters. I bet there are a lot of undecided voters out there who were intrigued by Sarah Palin last night, but who don't yet know enough about her -- what she believes, what she knows -- to be comfortable with the idea of her as vice president of the United States. It's important to them to know if Palin can handle herself in an environment that isn't controlled and sanitized by campaign image makers and message mavens. Maybe she can, maybe she can't. As far as Wallace is concerned, it's none of their -- or your -- business.

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1 comment:

Music Wench said...

I think they're keeping Sarah Palin from the media because she will show herself for the right-wing nut she truly is. Just a feeling I get from the way they've been presenting her.

I can't wait for the vice-presidential debate. Should be even better than the presidential one, now that McCain is apparently trying to play good cop to Palin's bad cop.