Polimicks

Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

Media and the Election Process – Guest Blogger A.M. Hinch

Today’s post is brought you by my friend A.M. Hinch, because electoral politics have me so enraged, I really can’t do much more than bang my head on the keyboard and howl in anger. 

Obama 2012 graphic

Seriously, can we just re-elect the guy already and stuff the GOP candidates back in the clown car? - M.

Where, you may be wondering, is my regular writer today? And why has she left us with this yahoo we don’t even know if we’re going to like, trust, or listen to?

Well, if Mickey is not quietly drinking herself into comfortable numbness over in the corner in an effort to do the same thing most of us would really enjoy – escaping the political madness in our everyday news – she should be. Perhaps you should too. (In fact, if you need a shot of something, go get it already.)

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, nearly 18 of which have been post-college professional writing and editing experience. As just part of my portfolio I’ve covered political stories at the local level and even done some interviews with a few national candidates.

Today, I’m going to write about something Mickey recently mentioned to me in some frustration, but that I’ve seen brought up in many other places before she ever related her story: Where should media draw the line in evaluating a candidate’s personal background for fair, public political review?

In case you scoff at my years of experience in local politics or think it doesn’t qualify me to know beans about the current complex GOP machinations (because that is specifically how I started thinking about how to explain this), allow me to point out two things of which you may not be aware:

1. Local politics is dirty. Unlike state, national, or big cities, small-town politics does not usually spin on party affiliation; it’s often predicated on who you know, who knows you, and personal charm. National smear campaigns differ only in the sense that they’re on a bigger stage, but nothing is essentially different in the methods unscrupulous people will use to gain power, be it a huge chunk of the presidency or a seat on the county commission. I once saw a fairly successful D.A. lose her reelection because two days before the voting, a local woman of some wealth sent out a mailing wailing about how her son had been deprived of his visitation rights with his offspring (of course, nothing was mentioned about the reason for this) because of this D.A. – and people chose to sympathize with this “father” they really knew nothing about rather than ask about his character (or that of the grandmother). Which brings me to my next point:

2. There is nothing really any more complex about the machinations in the 2012 GOP national race. See #1 above.

Here’s the specific quote that I’m working from; it’s in response to an essay of criticism of Ron Paul at littleredumbrella.com: “I may not agree with a lot of his politics but I find it incredibly disrespectful how the media treats him, especially with how high he does actually poll.”

WHAT IS THE MEDIA?

“The Media” is not a big, scary monster. Neither is it a shining knight on a white horse with magical powers. The Media is you … but on steroids, in a manner of speaking.

No reporter has any special powers or secret passwords that you don’t in tracking down information. What she probably does have are more contacts that she’s been able to cultivate for information because this is what she does with all her time, rather than work a real job and have a life; and, she’s learned how to ask questions. If you had 12 hours a day to devote to this kind of work, you could find out just as much on as many topics as your local newshound does – or even a reporter at one of the aforementioned giants of The Fourth Estate.

So, why does “The Media” suffer such a Whore/Madonna complex in public opinion? Well, just as:

The Media = the common person with more time for research;

it follows that:

Media outlet owners = the personalities and special interests of human beings.

If you’re a liberal and think Current TV is doing a bang-up job and that Fox News is in the crapper, it’s probably because your opinions are more aligned with Al Gore’s than with the Bushes and Kochs. Neither of these provides an objective point of view … which is why it’s on you to become a careful media consumer; to read/watch more than one source; and to exercise some common sense instead of just listening to a party spout.

WHY IS THE MEDIA SO DISRESPECTFUL?

There are two possible answers to this:

1. Because we are a bunch of bastards.

Let’s face it, owners of media organizations have their agendas and it’s the rare one who can always put it aside to give people with whom they virulently disagree completely fair hearings. I’m not talking necessarily about the reporters and lower-level editors – i.e., the foot soldiers. These people, by and large, are just doing their job the best they can; they usually have so much work and so many stories to write or edit that they don’t have time to exercise a seedy agenda. Plus – believe it or not – just like most people are essentially decent and mostly honest about the big things, so are most reporters and editors. If you look at all the media stories out there, the vast majority of journalists are trying. (Keep in mind, too, that they’re not paid well and their income isn’t likely to be the one to shoot up if their political party of choice gets in and gives the company for which they work – but don’t own – Big Tax Breaks.)

No, when people say “The Media,” they’re usually thinking of the Big Hand Behind The Scenes that sets the public face of a large company. You wouldn’t mistake any Murdock property as a Dem-friendly outlet, just as you’re more likely to see Mars swing into Earth’s orbit than to witness Michael Moore voting GOP.

But, in this case, more than likely, it’s 2: Because someone said something you don’t like about someone you either kind of like, or definitely don’t dislike as much as you dislike other candidates.

There seem to be a lot of people in this country who don’t seem to understand that a differing opinion, and explanation thereof, is not in itself disrespectful. Had the commenter I quoted up above given some specifics for his or her remark, perhaps I’d agree partly with them. Perhaps it’s not respectful for littleredumbrella.com to employ “fucking” as an adverb. But the commenter didn’t provide specifics for their complaint other than a version of “but he’s so popular!” – which is not and has never been a reason not to criticize someone running for public office. In fact, popularity may demand even more scrutiny, on the chance that people will actually vote for the candidate in enough numbers to put them into office. The main question, as always, should be: Is this person decent enough to hold public office in this country?

WHERE DO YOU GET OFF CRITICIZING CANDIDATES FOR THEIR PRIVATE LIVES?

Because sometimes, they’re not private. By and large, I don’t think politicians having affairs matter to their job performance; it’s normally something I would leave between them and their spouses to hash out. I only ever reported on one affair in my years as a journalist, because it was part of a public divorce trial, and the allegations the wife was making would have affected the husband’s political job performance. I hated it.

But there are, I think, necessary exceptions: when the candidate is doing the very thing they’re known to criticize other candidates or office-holders for doing; when the candidate is predicating a chunk of their campaign on reviling something in which they are then found to be engaging; and when such an affair would have an effect on their jobs, such as trading favors for political influence.

As a disclaimer, I should tell you I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat, either, but my views tend to align more with the latter party than the other most often. I do honestly believe the Democrats, while misguided in their methods and timid in their execution, have the better ideas on a lot of topics, while I see the current GOP as obstructionist and saying “no” for the sake of opposing the other side. This is not Eisenhower’s Republican Party, that’s for sure; it’s not even Nixon’s GOP.

This doesn’t mean I can’t be an objective journalist most of the time; it just means the examples I’m about to cite are going to seem one-sided – and I am admitting that they are.

The media have fixed on Newt Gingrich’s previous divorces, wives’ illnesses, and at least one affair, and while I see a lot of pointless sensationalism in modern media coverage (don’t get me started on mixing entertainment with actual news), I think this part of his personal life is a valid target for study. Here’s why: Because it matters for the job he’s so desperately trying to get you and me to hand to him. This job comes with unbelievable influence, reach, and power to affect all our lives and livelihoods, as well as access to at least partial control of all the tax money you and I work to pay in through the IRS each and every year until we die.

Ron Paul’s failings in treatment of and talk about people far less privileged than himself is also fair game – in fact, while I might understand someone frowning on discussing Newt’s personal life, I don’t understand why anyone would argue that Ron’s offenses couldn’t possibly have an effect on his job performance as president. Unlike having an affair, it should be immediately apparent why this kind of behavior affects a president’s performance – the president’s job is to recognize the problems in America and try to fix as many as practicable so everyone has an equal chance, not just those who look or think like him or her.

These two men want the chance to oversee and try to influence policies and laws that will govern how YOU live YOUR life – and that includes repealing or abolishing agencies designed to make things safer and more fair for the less financially and socially privileged (i.e., the grand majority of us at this point). If an editorial writer resorts to “fucking” to highlight their point, perhaps consider that they too, pay taxes, live here, and may be angry about not seeing anything that promises meaningful and positive change for their lives and the lives of people they know, who are struggling to make ends meet or live reasonable lives without unreasonable harassment.

OKAY, LET’S PRETEND I GET THE WHOLE “ANGER” THING. STILL, WHY DOES PERSONAL LIFE MATTER?

I’m not going into all of Ron’s failings as a candidate, when littleredumbrella.com already did that quite well. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on that score. Plus – much of what he’s being criticized for doesn’t fall under “personal life.”

Let me briefly focus on Newt, then. You may remember up above, I wrote this about examining someone’s personal life for a public job: There are necessary exceptions: when the candidate is doing the very thing they’re known to criticize other candidates or office-holders for doing; when the candidate is predicating a chunk of their campaign on reviling something in which they are then found to be engaging; and when such an affair would have an effect on their jobs, such as trading favors for political influence.

News reports have already gone into details of these, so I’ll just hit the high points. Under the “when the candidate is doing the very thing they’re known to criticize other candidates or office-holders for doing,” old TV interviews will show that Newt has gone on the record several times in the past criticizing Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions. Whatever you think of Bill’s behavior, I don’t recall him, in 20 years, criticizing other office-holders or candidates for being sexually indecorous. “Well, of course not!” you’re thinking. “That would be hypocritical, since he’s had affairs!”

Substitute Newt’s name in that thought, and then think on it. Think hard. When you criticize others publicly for something and talk about how it affects their job performance, you rightly open yourself up to the same scrutiny.

As for “when the candidate is predicating a chunk of their campaign on reviling something in which they are then found to be engaging,” I have two points. I’ve already covered the first – when you criticize others publicly for something and talk about how it affects their job performance, you rightly open yourself up to the same scrutiny. The second in this case is that old GOP saw, “family values.” Except in Newt’s case, he’s defined his version of family values by condemning sexual infidelity on one’s spouse (see above) and by condemning same-sex marriage as not being supportive of the institution of traditional marriage.

The problem with this statement is that it’s coming from a man who has been divorced twice and married three times, and both divorces were instigated by him; and both times, he initiated proceedings against wives who had been diagnosed with a serious illness.

What can we agree on with regards to “traditional marriage?” I think it’s safe to say in our society, at least, marriage is thought to be a lifetime commitment – sure, half the married population is going to divorce eventually, but I don’t think there are many people who walk down the aisle with anything less than a heart full of a lifetime pledge to their partner. If nothing else, from a practical standpoint, marriage and divorce are prohibitively expensive and exhausting to repeat too many times. So if Newt is for “traditional marriage,” it stands to reason he favors a lifetime commitment … a score on which he’s personally failed twice so far.

I think it’s also safe to say that we all agree a major part of the marriage vow is to pledge to stick by your spouse through good health and bad. While there are cases in which a spouse might be justified in leaving and moving on after a serious injury, if the caretaking becomes horribly onerous and the partner’s personality has changed (I’m thinking a bad stroke, or something like that), I do not think undergoing cancer treatments or simply being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis falls into that category. In fact, I have a friend in her forties who was diagnosed with MS 12 years ago, and she still gets around well and can take care of herself. She’s not physically burdensome, and I doubt Newt’s second wife was at the point of their divorce, either. So, if Newt is for traditional marriage, it stands to reason he favors a commitment to help his wife in health and in illness … a score on which he’s also failed twice so far.

WHAT’S YOUR POINT?

If by now it’s not obvious to you that someone who predicates a good deal of their campaign on calling out other candidates for personal failings, should have his or her same personal failings publicized, then reading this has been an exercise in futility.

If you don’t understand why the media and voters might criticize a man’s remarks that show he not only doesn’t understand the concept of white male privilege, but doesn’t understand how certain institutions and practices encourage and continue it – and that he doesn’t care – you’re not going to care about anything I have to say.

If you don’t understand that respect among adults has to be earned and not given, and can be lost on lying and/or hypocrisy, and that a free press’s job is to hold office-holders to task for the promises they make and question their claims if there are valid reasons to do so, that’s a flaw in your personal code and I certainly won’t change your mind.

Finally, if you simply don’t get that any candidate has willingly subjected themselves to public scrutiny by choosing to seek political office, and you feel it’s disrespectful to get angry with someone who wants control of your money and how you live your life if they demonstrate they think of the voters as lesser beings than themselves – go back to the beginning and re-read this again.

And again. Repeat as necessary.

-A.M. Hinch

Thank you, again, to Ms. Hinch for writing this analysis for me.  It’s certainly more cogent, and coherent, than anything I could manage right now.

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2012 by in Featured Articles, Media, Politics.

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