Political opinion broadcasting

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There has been a trend, especially in the United States but in its world media, for political news coverage to have become more a matter of opinion and sensationalizing. Accelerated by investigative reporting in the Vietnam War and Watergate, and by the advent of 24-hour news programs in tight ratings competition, it is a far cry from the gentlemens' agreements not to report the peccadilloes and health of politicians as recently as the 1960s. For a politician to fall afoul of such a pack of scavengers today should not be interpreted, as other than "nothing personal, only business." As Harry Truman once put it, "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

The classic print journalistic position was that opinion belonged on the editorial page, not in articles, and the political view of journalists should not be relevant. Edward R. Murrow, when asked by a potential sponsor of the "See It Now" television show in 1951, responded, "Gentlemen, that is none of your business."[1]

Classic non-reportage

Franklin D. Roosevelt, while a paraplegic, was never shown, by the media of the time, as having a movement disability, nor was his failing health, going into the 1944 campaign.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; invalid names, e.g. too many

The physical health of John F. Kennedy was not mentioned in the 1960 presidential campaign.

Broadcast networks regarded their news operations not as a profit center, but as a service.

Vietnam

It has been characteristic, in political media coverage of the last few decades, for a media mob to descend on any irregularity, such as George Romney during the Vietnam War, when he tearfuly said he had been "brainwashed".[2]

Another aspect of Vietnam, however, was a growing distrust in official sources, often considered to begin with the rosy coverage of the 1962 Battle of Ap Bac, with irregularities uncovered by Neil Sheehan and David Halberstam.

Later, Walter Cronkite went far out of his traditional neutral role, following the 1968 Tet Offensive, to declare "We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds." [3]

Watergate

24/7 News

This trend vastly accelerated with the advent of 24/7 cable news, such as CNN, and its search for ratings, the transfer of major network news departments from a public service to a profit center economic model, and the advent of blogging and other high-speed, not validated sources of information.

Emotion-laden commentary

A variant of the latter was the advent of radio and television commentators and talk shows that seem outlets for indignation rather than venues for rational discussion. This was a change from the public service view of shows such as Meet the Press, which began on radio in 1945 and on television in 1947. [4]

One of the first appearances of deliberate conflict, in a news context, was the "Point Counterpoint" segment of 60 Minutes, with Shana Alexander and James Kilpatrick, beginning in 1975.[5] In 1984, the McLaughlin Group began a free-standing on-air argument. [6]

Nevertheless, it is now quite common for broadcast journalists, especially on radio but also on television, especially cable news channels, to make what can only be called attacks. While the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and associated case law puts sets an extremely high bar on political and journalistic speech, even a country with the open press tradition of Great Britain has acted to consider some U.S. reporting hate speech, as in the case of Michael Savage.[7]

The pattern is not limited to one ideology, although conservative shows have done best in ratings. There have been calls by Democrats to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, which called for balance in reporting, although that lapsed doctrine existed in a time before cable, where the Federal Communications Commission had much more regulatory authority. [8]

Conflict of interest?

An increasing number of past politicians and potential candidates are appearing as opinion commentators, creating what many consider at least the appearance of conflict of interest. “As long as they are still newsmakers, there is a strong potential for conflict,” said Andy Schotz, the chairman of the ethics committee for the Society of Professional Journalists. At the very least, it can amount to an advantage for the analysts, and create a perception of favoritism. “It’s a little awkward,” said David Bohrman, the Washington bureau chief for CNN. The networks that employ the analysts “probably ought to realize that they’re being taken advantage of a little bit,” because some of the people are “posturing for election advantage,” he said.

The greatest concentration of potential candidates, in early 2010, is on Fox News, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich. Several broadcasters have left the studio and either have become candidates or are exploring it, such as Harold E. Ford Jr. at MSNBC (considering U.S. Senate from New York), Angela McGlowan of Fox (candidate for Congress from Mississippi) and Lou Dobbs of CNN, rumored to be considering a presidential bid.

“It does seem amazing how many are being either discussed as candidates, rumored as candidates, or are actually doing it,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC. He called hiring them a "competitive issue", but also “If you’re seriously examining a run for office, He defined you can’t host a show or be a general analyst.” He defined "serious" as taking an official step, such as forming an exploratory committee.[9]

References

  1. A.M. Sperber (1986), Murrow: His Life and Times, Freundlich, p. 357
  2. "Republicans: The Brainwashed Candidate", Time, 15 September 1967
  3. Walter Cronkite's "We are mired in stalemate" broadcast, 27 February 1968
  4. About Meet the Press, NBC News
  5. Dennis McLellan, "Shana Alexander, famed for "Point/Counterpoint," dies", Los Angeles Times
  6. Richard Sandomir, "AT LUNCH WITH: The McLaughlin Group; Just Another Talk Show? Wronnnggg!", New York Times
  7. "I'll sue for defamation, says US shock-jock Michael Savage, on UK banned list", The Times, May 6, 2009
  8. Dick Uliano (13 February 2009), "Dems target right-wing talk radio", CNN
  9. Bryan Stelter (15 February 2010), "Politicians as News Analysts Raise Questions on Their Goal", New York Times