by Jane Briggs-Bunting
Just spent the past three days surfing in and out of the GOP’s Isaac-shortened convention. PBS carried it a lot. The commercial networks gave it just an hour a night.
The armchair commentators of the networks, with the exception, of course, of Fox News, was subtly and, at times, blatantly biased against Mitt Romney and Republicans, in general.
For several years a neighbor of mine, who is far to the right, has complained about liberal media bias. As a journalist, I have been a staunch defender of news coverage which on a local, daily basis is often as fair and accurate as can be expected. I know how eyewitnesses can observe vastly different versions of the same event, how politicians can spin a message then deny saying it, how covering sad and gruesome events like plane crashes, tornadoes, hurricanes, car accidents and violence can be difficult and how hard I used to try, and my colleagues, too, to do our jobs with accuracy and thoroughness.
However, the 24/7 news cycle on cable and online have changed the game entirely. All that dead space and air seemingly requires flapping lips of talking heads to fill the void, and the networks are equally guilty. Much as I hate to admit it, my neighbor is right. The bias is blatant.
The focus of last night’s coverage between the speeches and after the balloons fell was more about Clint Eastwood’s quirky monologue (must have made his day) and less about the GOP’s presidential candidate’s acceptance speech other than, he did a good job “for Mitt.”
Little mention was made of Marco Rubio’s introduction, of the comments on education and schools by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and the video (which I didn’t see) on Romney himself.
There was grudging consensus that Romney became a little more humanized in the three day sprint.
I am not a Republican or a Democrat. I sport no bumper stickers on my car or signs on my lawn. Journalists shouldn’t do that. I admit to doing serious due diligence on candidates and issues in every primary and election, local, state and national, before I cast my ballot in the privacy of the voting booth. That’s not necessarily part of my job as a journalist, but it is an important responsibility for me as a citizen.
The Democrats gather in Charlotte this week. Isaac is likely to make a weak appearance as it heads eastward. I’ll be watching the coverage. I expect Fox to snipe and the others to wax eloquent.
Sadly, U.S news media has regressed to the early 20th Century model of rag tag, sensationalistic, biased newspapers. I know bias has always existed and truth telling is devilishly hard, but at least in the second half of that last century, it was a goal and an aspiration, and it felt like a journalist’s moral obligation and responsibility to readers and viewers.
What news media should be doing is holding both candidates and parties accountable for what they say and what they do, asking the tough questions and seeking answers to the very difficult issues of the day.
Forget the scripted sound bite coverage. Do the job the First Amendment entrusted to the press.