Journalists as Political Referees

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In examining the various guidelines journalists should follow when covering politics, I believe Philip Seibs says it best in the first chapter of Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism:

“Journalists must resist the allure of trying to be all things to all people (leaving that to the politicians) and just try to construct a sprawling, helpful framework on which voters can base their choices.”

First, it is our job to present the important issues to the public, and Seib points out that those issues especially include those facing minority groups such as the homeless, Native Americans and the mentally ill. These groups do not have the funds to grab the attention of powerful political parties. By pressing for specifics and resisting manipulation of the politicians, the press can allow the truth to advance to the forefront.

 I appreciated Michael Shudson’s sentiment inThe Concept of Politics in Contemporary Journalism when he mentioned that there is an abundance of reporting on what’s wrong but not an adequate amount of coverage on what’s right with politics. Journalists’ roles boil down to providing the facts while making this information both interesting and relevant.

However, this role is easier said than carried out and journalists can turn into what Christopher Hayes refers to as “well-paid pundits telling us how the working class people think” in his article about the right way to approach political coverage. Hayes is clearly very opinionated and blunt in pointing out what is wrong with political coverage today. I agreed with his suggestion of more feature writing and less mundane daily reporting as well as his idea that while covering the campaign itself, journalists should remember to emphasize global and economic events that are the living examples of the issues candidates are asserting they will address.

Along these lines of sensationalized stories, the candidates themselves obviously have a checked history with the press such as the case with Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, who used his speeches to target the press for their obsession with controversy and feeding lies to a gullible public. I agree with the press delving into the private affairs. Candidates running for office are well aware that skeletons are going to be yanked from their closets and the public deserves access to information that will help them determine the true character of their public officials up for election. However, journalists need to be extremely careful that their sources are reliable and their facts are correct, as during an election, sensationalized rumors can easily find their way into tweets, blogs and front pages, creating a mass hysteria. 

In conclusion, I think Schudson’s model is a fitting summation of journalism’s place in politics: “…the political world is not so much a complicated place that requires fair-minded description and analysis but a misleading construction of self-interested powers that demand a professional truth-teller.”

Truth is the foundational pillar of journalism and this concept is muddled and twisted in the contests that make up the political arena. Therefore, journalists are meant to be fair political referees delivering information to the public that leads to informed decisions about both the candidates and the issues they aim to address.

 

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