Why does the news media get a bad image among many Americans? Just as politicians slip up and appear bloated with self-importance, just as Hollywood stars can appear to be blow-fish, puffing up with huge opinions of themselves, just as bloggers (with the exception of me) often think they and their websites are more significant than they are…there are times when the traditional news media needs to take a time out…and a deep breath…before it writes or broadcasts…about itself.
For instance, Wonkette has this post about CNN’s Ed Henry, usually a solid reporter and good journalistic role model, on Henry’s Hey-Everyone’s-Wondering-About-Me article on Henry’s exchange with President Barack Obama. And Wonkette is correct: read it and it’s oozing with the feeling of someone who feels he is the center of the journalistic universe. (There are other stories and — believe it or not — more significant developments not just in the world — but on my block here in San Diego where someone is trying to get into my condo’s dumpster). (Wonkette calls it the “worst article in American history” – but not quite. Hasn’t Wonkette read any of the books of the collected 60 Minutes essays of Andy Rooney??)
Meanwhile, Talking Points Memo has a tidbit about how New York Times reporters panned Barack Obama’s presser last night (in talking with several people here in San Diego several people were talking about it and really liked it and him). When you read it, TPM is correct in noting how the Times made a point of saying Obama didn’t call on any of the big newspapers (which included the Times). Is that a new requirement? Can he be accused of being a right wing Rush Limbaugh fan for calling on the Washington Times (as he did)? Or for ignoring the U.S. of A by calling on a Mexican journalist (as he did)? Or for ignoring the “real” news media when he called a wire service? Or for ignoring real broadcasters when he called on CNN (Henry)?
With X amount of time in a press conference, Obama has to hit some big outlets and small outlets to be fair — and he did. It’s like during a show at a school when a performer has to pick some kids and others can’t get up. Even kids don’t cry about it.
On the other hand, the White House has made it known in some articles that it will try to go to sources other than the mainstream media or big publications. George Bush and Dick Cheney went on Rush Limbaugh’s or Sean Hannity’s shows; Obama goes on Ed Schultz’s show. The key question becomes: how much of this is dissing the big publications versus giving more of a chance to other outlets and cultivating them?
The Henry and Times pieces underscore a fact: the news media is at its best when it writes about issues and trends, instead of turning an event into something about them. And when the media does, in terms of imagery, it tends to backfire.
Self-love is worth watching but it isn’t always pretty.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.