tactic doesn’t often faze reporters, most of
whom tend to have pretty thick skins. If anything it undermines the integrity,
such as it is, of the campaign, while diminishing the candidates.
As a longtime observer of the human condition and our culture, I’ve
found the most persuasive and trusted speakers are those who respond candidly,
and positively, to all questions.
Sure, by showing contempt for reporters, the GOP contenders are throwing red
meat to the most conservative voters, as reflected in a Pew Research Center poll
showing 74% of Tea Party Republicans believe there is “a great deal of
bias” in campaign news coverage. Sarah Palin popularized the label “lamestream
media” to energize her conservative base.
But the wider campaign strategy does not represent the views of the public
at large. That Tea Party poll figure is double the percentage within the general
population, and more than double the concern among independent voters. With few
exceptions, GOP candidates have been treated fairly by reporters and moderators
from the major cable networks.
Moreover, the news media have a job to help vet presidential candidates for
American viewers. Was CNN’s John King right to ask Newt Gingrich in a debate
about that day’s headline-dominating comments from the candidate’s
former wife about their failed marriage? Of course.
Was it fair game for Rose to ask Santorum about his adviser’s comment
on contraception? Naturally.
And did Mitt Romney gain anything by dodging a question in the last CNN debate
by saying: “You get to ask the questions you want and I get to give the
answers I want’? Certainly not.
Voters can decide for themselves whether the issue is one that influences
their vote. It’s one thing for a candidate to appear to field a question
while really sidestepping it. But it’s another to pointedly declare that
you don’t respect the process enough even to pretend to answer.
Gingrich has gone a step further by making the outlandish pledge that, if
nominated as the GOP presidential nominee, he would refuse to participate in
any debates against President Obama if the moderators were reporters. Perhaps
in lashing out at media some politicians seek to show toughness and fighting
spirit. But sniping at reporters plays into the networks’ hands, since
such outbursts only help ratings.
As for winning votes, another Pew study last fall underscored the problem
with blasting media. While 59% of Americans trust the information they get from
national media, only 29% trust what they hear from the source that complains
about media the most — candidates running for office.
(c) Peter Funt. This column first appeared in USA Today.