Term Limits for the Media
Years ago, working for a pro-term limits group, I was asked by a reporter what was meant by a clumsily-worded statement in our press packet announcing that we “provide information about term limits for the media.”
The reporter was fixated on the phrase “term limits for the media” and, well, sorta panicked. Term limits are popular, after all. I jovially explained that “for” people laboring in the media we would “provide information” — that is, studies and press releases and backgrounders and stuff . . . about term limits for politicians.
In other words: relax, reporters; we weren’t launching a campaign to limit your tenure on the beat.
Sometimes, when witnessing political agendas getting in the way of decent journalism, I recall the specific discomfort of that one reporter to the very idea of term-limiting the media, extrapolate that state of mind, and . . . enjoy.
Two months ago, I noted in my Common Sense e-letter that much of the news media and left-of-center political punditry didn’t much seem to care about their ability — or the public’s right — to see the tens of thousands of Fast & Furious documents Attorney General Eric Holder still refuses to make public.
Whether Congress’s request for documents is purely partisan and politically motivated or completely justifiable on the merits, how does a journalist not want to see the material? Whether one thinks the information will be of little import or amount to an ammo dump full of smoking guns, how does a reporter not want to see it? Whether the gun-walking operations operated by the federal government were mostly effective police work or the stupidest arming of one’s enemies ever imagined, how does a columnist not want to see the actual emails and memos and other documents associated with a program that went so badly astray . . . or with any cover-up?
We need to find out the facts. The public has a right to know.
So we can make better decisions regarding our government going forward.
Isn’t all this loosely associated with the purpose of “journalism”?
Not according to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, whose response to the battle over executive branch transparency wasn’t to urge the release of the documents, but to suggest that those interested in seeing them were racist. Because President Barack Obama and General Holder are African-Americans.
For this or another reason, much of the media has effectively ignored the story.
Then, last week, the journalistic maxim “if it bleeds it leads” was mysteriously repealed. It’s already been a blockbuster summer for news, what with several highly publicized mass shootings. Now comes a gunman with a political ax to grind, smack dab in the middle of the great culture wars that drive the 24-hour news cycle, walking into the capital office of a powerful political group; he opens fire.
Floyd Lee Corkins II entered the lobby of the Family Research Council headquarters, made a statement about not liking the group’s “policy” prescriptions, and reportedly shot Leo Johnson, whose duties include functioning as the group’s security guard. Johnson, though hit in the arm, subdued Corkins and prevented a potential mass murder. Not only a great security guard, but a real hero.
As if the story weren’t interesting enough, it turns out that Corkins had spent the last six months volunteering at the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community, an outfit politically at odds with the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage and believes homosexual behavior to be sinful. Along with the gun, Corkins had 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches in his bag.
It’s not that there was zero coverage for a news story combining gun violence, the guts of our political culture wars and an honest-to-goodness hero, but . . .
The story got 20 seconds on The CBS Evening News. Still revving from their Olympic coverage, NBC’s Nightly News spit out all the details in just 17. The story led off ABC’s World News for two-and-a-half minutes. But none of the three senior TV networks reported the information about Corkins’s political connections, leaving any such motivations vague.
Two stories in the Washington Post on the days following the shooting made no mention of any of the summer’s other shootings, as if the incident ought not be considered when covering other such mega-news events.
Thankfully, there was no death count at the Family Research Council shooting. Maybe that’s why the media coverage seemed so understated. But, then again, it is hard not to wonder to what degree partisan motivations, the press playing politics, might have resulted in reduced coverage for a crime committed against what they may view as a politically incorrect victim.
Of course, the political affiliations of deranged murderers, or just wannabe killers, are not usually very instructive. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. The point isn’t to play up the shooters to smear the innocent, but for major media outlets to report the news evenhandedly, including violence committed against their political opponents, and to pursue the truth of what our government is doing, such as on Fast & Furious, even when the outcome might not further their various political agendas.
As much as they might deserve it sometimes, we cannot constitutionally term-limit media folks, whether they be journalists, TV reporters, or mere “talking heads.” And I wouldn’t want to — for one, they don’t really have “terms.” Instead, we can push reform as customers by watching, listening and reading those profit-seeking media companies that do a better job.
August 19, 2012
This column first appeared at Townhall.com.