Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is the Press the Enemy?

In his book “Hardball” (wouldn’t that make a great name for a TV talk show?) CNN commentator Chris Matthews gives advice to politicians. He titles one chapter in the book “The Press is the Enemy.” In it he explains that politicians must be wary of the press because their objectives are not the same. The objectives of politicians are to get elected (or reelected) and to implement their policies. The objective of the press, however, is to publish a good story. The press is not concerned with whether politicians are elected or implement their policies unless, of course, it makes a good story. Therefore, the politician can never trust the press.

We in River City have seen recently how cautious public figures need to be in dealing with the press. Back in March, City Council member Ellen Robertson was reported in Style Weekly as accusing Richmond Chief Administrator Sheila Hill-Christian of being a criminal. The story caused Mayor Doug to strap on his six-guns and turned out to be embarrassing for Ms. Robertson, Ms Hill-Christian and the mayor. But it was a great story. Also, a few weeks later, Style Weekly highlighted a disagreement between school board member Kim Bridges and PTA council president Tichi Pinkney-Epps. It also made a great story, but both Ms. Bridges and Ms. Pinkney-Epps came out of the whole thing pretty bruised up.

Devoted reader, you may also remember that in January this maven accused the broadcast media of managing the news in such a way as to bolster the campaigns of Senators Clinton and Obama and downplay the campaigns of the other candidates.
Choosing the President: It’s the Media, Dummy.

I was thinking about these things when I looked at today’s Times-Dispatch. As I expected the main article was about Mayor Wilder’s decision not to run for re-election. Wilder will not run for re-election. Right in the second paragraph was this statement,

Corporate lawyer Robert J. Grey Jr. is being mentioned as a likely candidate to run as heir to Wilder's vision of a strong mayor to lead city government.

I’m sorry! I have been watching the mayoral race from my observation post high above the mighty James River and I haven’t heard anything about Robert Grey. I’ve heard about Paul and Dwight and Jackie (who was in and out of the race without even splashing) and there are a few interesting other candidates. I also expect that City Council President Bill will be jumping in the pool soon. But Robert? Where did Robert come from? And what does “being mentioned as a likely candidate” mean? Can it be that our beloved metropolitan daily is the one doing the mentioning? Would the TD manage the news to encourage the candidacy of Mr. Grey?

And… Three weeks ago George Braxton announced that he was not running for reelection to the school board and on the very same day my secret identity announced he was running for the vacant seat. (I will not suggest that the timing was a coincidence). I sent an electronic copy of my announcement to all the local news outlets including the Richmond Free Press. The next issue of the Free Press reported Mr. Braxton’s announcement and said that no candidate had announced for Mr. Braxton’s seat. It also said that sources suggest that a former member of the school board would make a good replacement for George. Now, I cannot prove that the Free Press actually received my announcement before it reported that there was no announced candidate for the seat. But, just maybe, it was managing the news in suggesting its own candidate for the school board vacancy.

So, is the press the enemy, as Chris Matthews suggests? Trusted reader, I leave it to you to decide.


Anonymous said...

Of course the press is the enemy. As long as the public can be (mis)led by them, they will continue to hold way too much power in deciding who is acceptable and who is not.

The people have to look beyond the so-called independent media and do their own research.

Anonymous said...

I read that line in the TD story ("Corporate lawyer Robert J. Grey Jr. is being mentioned as a likely candidate to run as heir to Wilder's vision of a strong mayor to lead city government") and instantly thought, "Well, we all know who the newspaper favors."

Thing is, I mistrust the TD so much now, I usually figure that anyone they support is someone I should not support.