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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Friday, November 7, 2008

Palin: A Media Cover-Up?

A young friend and aspiring actor, Daniel Enright asks a very pertinent question:

The...media have jumped all over the allegations about Palin and the whole thing has proved fascinating.

But the thing is: Would the fact that a nominee can't identify
continents or the members of NAFTA or even know simple civics, be
good for an electorate to know?

I understand the agreements made are sacrosanct but how the hell does
media sit on this stuff?


Dan, I don't think the media sat on it at all.

Two things seem to be going on: first, these post-election "leaks" are coming
from the McCain camp. They appear to be looking to blame Governor Palin for
their loss without taking any responsibility for the seemingly rudderless
direction of the McCain campaign.

Second, throughout the campaign there was a lot of excellent reporting about
Palin's politics and her background (including her graduation from college with
a journalism degree!). Not every aspect of her ignorance came out during the campaign, but enough of it did to give a lot of people pause.

Her lack of foreign policy knowledge and expertise became quickly apparent especially in that devastating interview on CBS with Katie Couric. That, combined with the Tina Fey imitations on Saturday Night Live probably did her and the McCain campaign in - more effectively than any revelatory reporting about Palin's ignorance about Africa (It is a continent? Or a country?) or which countries are part of Nafta.

But Daniel has a point: politicians and the reporters who cover them appear to have a "nudge, nudge, wink, wink" relationship. Journalists seems to get access if they aren't too tough on the subjects of their reporting.

Fortunately the old days when journalists "palled around" to gave politicians a pass and a lot of rope are over. I hope.

Some of this is fair and some isn't.

If a reporter goes after a politician in too vigorous a fashion, it looks like advocacy or partisan politics disguised (barely) as journalism. Some journalists
(I think of Jeremy Paxman of the BBC or Neil MacDonald at the CBC) can be veritable piranhas when it comes to savaging politicians. It can be entertaining,
but I find both Paxton and Macdonald to wear thin pretty quickly.

When the camera goes on, they appear to push their "moral outrage" button and out it comes. Predictable and not very informative. Even the recent pranking of Palin by two Montreal djs I thought was silly and childish. It was embarrassing for Palin yes, but I found myself actually feeling sorry for her and I think a lot of other people felt a certain "there they go again," in response to how the media treated her. She had already done herself and the McCain campaign in by that time. So when the two Montrealers fooled her into thinking she was speaking to France's Nicolas Sarkozy, it was like shooting fish a barrel...

To do less than vigorous journalism would be stenography. I think that in this campaign, when it came to Sarah Palin, the media had the right balance of investigation and reportage.

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