Washington media need to look in mirror to find flaws

In a provocatively titled story called “Why Politicians Hate the Press,” Politico gives a perfect example in its own article of why the rest of the country agrees — with the politicians.

Politico Magazine gave four former lawmakers a chance to explain what was wrong with Washington media. The piece has a short intro from the two writers who compiled the blurbs. Two politicians were from the left — former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank — and two were from the right — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The four say about what you would expect them to say, with some nuttiness thrown in. And then — nothing. No context, no self-reflection, no explanation of why the writers thought these four would be a good cross-section of politician outrage.

In other words, a failure of journalism once again.

The four bring up some interesting and valid points.

From Howard Dean: “The inside-the-Beltway press is just the worst. There’s too much reliance on unnamed sources, which are unreliable and can’t be evaluated by the reader. And the willingness to engage in pack journalism is just appalling.”

From Newt Gingrich: “If you get a congressman idiotic enough to take pictures of himself and tweet them out, that gets 600 times more coverage than the dangers of an Iranian nuclear weapon.”

From Barney Frank: “When I first entered office, there was a healthy skepticism, but you were as likely to get positive as negative news. Some people say it had to do with Vietnam and Watergate, when people like Woodward and Bernstein made these great reputations by writing about bad stuff, but over time I think the press has developed a serious bias towards negativism.”

From Michele Bachmann: “The mainstream media is, in a broad brushstroke way, disrespectfully lazy. They don’t do their work to understand a story.”

(You’ll pardon me if I don’t quote more from Michele Bachmann, since she spent most of her real estate ranting about her letter demanding to know about the “influence of the Muslim Brotherhood within the U.S. government” — which existed only in her mind — and then complaining about how the media labeled her anti-Muslim.)

There were thousands of politicians who could have written answers to a simple question. I don’t know how the writers chose these particular four. Perhaps others were asked and refused. Perhaps others gave less provocative answers.

Or perhaps Politico just wanted the most extreme examples the magazine could think of. Why else ask Michele Bachmann, who made little sense while she was in Congress? Did the writers honestly think she would start now?

I’m sure the writers hoped Howard Dean would bring up the denigrating coverage of his shouting the night of the 2004 Iowa caucuses (“And we’re going to New Hampshire! And Michigan! YEOW!”), but he left that out.

There aren’t always two sides to every story — sometimes only one has facts on its side. There are often multiple sides to stories, which need to be told in context rather than as a fight between A and B. You would think, with the high salaries paid to those in the Beltway media, that reporters, pundits, anchors, and their staffs would take the time and trouble to get something right and to do a job thoroughly. Too often, you would be wrong.

We’ve got 18 months to go before the 2016 presidential election. Already the media are in a frenzy about Clinton Cash, a book by an oft-discredited right-wing opposition writer about how foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation affected what Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state. And already, some of what has been printed in The New York Times and elsewhere on the subject of the book has been shown to be incorrect.

Instead of asking Republican candidates substantive questions about policies and proposals on income inequality, tax plans, climate change, or foreign policy, the question of the day to any GOP candidate seems to be nothing but: “Would you attend a gay wedding?”

And the Beltway media wonder why the American public is tuning them out — and why they tell pollsters they can’t wait for election coverage to end.

Tonight is the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the event sometimes referred to as the “Nerd Prom.” It’s that time each spring where Washington movers and shakers dress up and listen to the comedian-in-chief make fun of himself, other politicians, and the media, to be followed by a professional comedian trying to do the same thing. Some will start wringing their hands about the close relationship between the media and politics. They would do more of a service by looking in the mirror at their own coverage and doing some serious self-reflection.

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