Crony journalism: The close relationship between journalists and the ruling liberal elite. Instead of reporting being conducted in an independent manner following journalistic principles and fair play, crony journalists show favoritism to a particular policy agenda and political outcome.
In light of Governor Palin’s recent interview outreach to a few of the typical leftwing media outlets, I’d like to share my thoughts on the state of journalism today, the art of interviewing, and my belief that crony journalists (that I’ve defined above) have abdicated their duty to inform the public, and consequently forfeit their right to be taken seriously.
Let’s start with what constitutes a good interview. In my 20 years as a journalist, mostly with business publications, I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews with financial leaders and political figures on both sides of the political spectrum. In my opinion, the overarching goal of any interview is to make guests feel comfortable enough through questioning that they willingly share important and valuable truths. You do that by being prepared, building rapport, and asking questions designed to illuminate. You don’t do that by having a preconceived political agenda.
Unfortunately, too often in the interviews we see conducted with Governor Palin in the mainstream media the questions seemed designed merely to rehash and perpetuate tired lefty and RINO talking points about her perceived shortcomings. No important revelations, no valuable truth, just the trivial and mostly inane stuff: newspaper gate, wardrobe gate, and bendy straws all over again, albeit in a marginally updated and improved form. None of which is extremely interesting, especially to us conservatives.
We would all like to see Governor Palin deliver her message of fiscal responsibility and national security in these mainstream interviews. But how many questions focus on energy independence, terror threats, or the budget crisis? Um, none. Granted, it’s still early, and these have been largely soft-focus interviews, but these are the folks we’re gonna let influence our Republican primary? Heaven help us!
The fact is, liberal interviewers –whether in the hard news or soft news side — still appear doggedly obsessed with Governor Palin’s “polarizing celebrity,” her alleged dearth of qualifications, and the sheer titillation of her potential presidential bid. (Aren’t we beyond juvenile theatrics about the prospects of a serious female presidential candidate by now?) Based on these recent interviews we would have little indication that the Tea Party made sweeping gains in November led, in large part, by Governor Sarah Palin. We would have no knowledge that Obama’s support among independents has cratered. And we would have no clue that Americans by a nearly three-to-one margin think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Instead we get:
- How is your marriage to Todd surviving? (After all, the National Enquirer said you’re divorcing!)
- The Wall Street Journal poll numbers suggest you’re completely unelectable. (Forget about the fact that Obama is under water in approval in nearly 40 states and a majority of Americans don’t want him re-elected.)
- You use scary-looking rifles to kill caribou. Why? No really, why?
- Do you actually read anything? (Even though we’ve never met another governor, much less a dynamic young female governor and party leader who did NOT read.)
- Your own party is scared of you being nominated. (Even though you spearheaded the takeover of the house, and now lead the pack of GOP 2012 hopefuls in a number of key states.) Who exactly in the GOP is afraid of Sarah Palin? And why should we care what they think?
Let’s face it. While Governor Palin has delivered dozens of well-regarded speeches, penned a book about her political philosophy, and written a number of powerful policy essays and op-eds, not much has changed for crony journalists in the last two years. They still don’t see Palin as an equal. They’re still talking down to her like the professorial Charlie Gibson, and still playing from the lefty rulebook that insists on marginalizing conservatives rather than engaging us on our own terms.
This is especially true for popular conservatives like Governor Palin. If you’re unpopular and “conservative” like Kathleen Parker or David Frum you’re a genius, but if people in the heartland like you and actually watch your TV show, well, you must be dumber than dirt.
Media trench warfare
We still recall with horror and indignation the two high-profile interviews Governor Palin gave on the 2008 campaign trail with Couric and Gibson. In so many ways, despite everything that’s happened since, she has yet to live them down. The media and public keep bringing them up, as evidenced in Adrienne’s recent debate on an African American talk show. Indeed, even people who are completely apolitical still have some vague recollection of Palin “botching” her six-hour Couric interview … while showing no awareness of Joe Biden’s hideous errors in a similar, yet much shorter campaign sit down with “The Perky One.”
You could drive yourself crazy asking why Biden, a six-term U.S. Senator, largely got a free pass for flubbing History 101, while Tina Fey endlessly parodied Palin’s offhand comment to Gibson about the proximity of Alaska to Russia, which is a geographic fact.
Gibson earned deserved criticism for his condescending tone, yet Couric went on to receive the prestigious Walter Cronkite broadcasting award for her legendary Palin interview. Which begs the question, what public good did Couric serve? Did she expose corruption, greed or vice? Did Couric “study up” on Governor Palin’s views on energy independence and ask her what we can do to tap our resources responsibly and ethically based on the governor’s extensive experience in that area, including her bold call for renewable energy? Did she research Palin’s own written statements and abundant interviews prior to her VP nod? Did she once show any curiosity about why Governor Palin had a 90% approval rating in her state or how she earned her legendary reputation as a fearless reformer?
No, not that we noticed.
Governor Palin is right to suggest that a rematch with Katie Couric is unlikely to happen. As much as I’d like to see Palin personally launch Perky into the dustbin of history, there’s really not much to be gained from sitting down with a crony journalist. After all, award-winning or not, Couric brazenly violated journalistic principles by prepping for her Palin interview with former Democrat Senator Sam Nunn, an Obama campaign advisor. The two of them discussed not just the content of the interview, but actual tactics. By Couric’s own account, they plotted both what to ask, and how to ask Governor Palin certain foreign policy questions. Does that sound like a fair-minded journalist to you? It’s strange that the thought apparently never occurred to either of these “brilliant” liberals that John McCain was the foreign policy ace on the McCain/Palin ticket. Remind us again who was the foreign policy ace on Obama’s ticket? This was the guy who needed 300 foreign policy advisors, including Sam Nunn, after all.
Never once (even as a liberal Democrat) have I deliberately set out to make an interview subject look bad. To do so, in my mind, would constitute not an award-winning occasion, but a serious ethical breach. Journalists should ask tough questions, to be sure, but we do so to uncover truth, not to gratuitously humiliate. Couric sought the latter.
I believe my purpose as a journalist is to tap deeply into an interview source’s documented area of knowledge and expertise, and report as accurately as possible on those ideas, letting readers draw their own conclusions about their intelligence and wisdom. I challenge my interview subjects, but I also believe in meeting them on their own turf, so to speak. It would be all-too-easy to antagonize, humiliate, and possibly intimidate even the physicist Stephen Hawking if you badgered him about oh, bungee jumping, for instance, or not being able to play an electric guitar.
Couric made a mockery of the interview process by asking irrelevant questions fueled by an obvious liberal agenda. Her intent in editing down six hours of tape into its least flattering 20 minutes was to paint Palin as uninformed and provincial. Why else would you include Palin’s brush off non-sequitur about her reading habits? I’ve often thought that the unpretentious and practical Palin didn’t want to answer that question “specifically” because to openly boast about what she reads is not something she’s used to doing. She didn’t see reading as something to brag about to impress her “betters” but something one does normally as a matter of course, to stay informed. She took offense to the question. Yet Couric wouldn’t accept an obviously frustrated non-answer. If she were a better journalist, she might have followed-up with, “Most politicians would have gleefully answered that reading question to show off their intellectual chops. Why are you reluctant to talk about what you read?” Which would have let Palin, at least, inform Ms. Couric that the question doesn’t seem to be coming at “what” she reads but “if” she reads. We could have tapped into the whole elitist thing and that would have been good TV.
Nor would Couric accept Palin’s perfectly reasonable answers in other areas. Who else in America, for instance, believed John McCain’s efforts to reform Fannie Mae were meaningless to the discussion? Yet Katie Couric insisted that Palin specifically name other instances in which McCain called for increased regulation. In other words, other than the time you heroically tried to save your children from a flaming wreckage, did you do anything else special for them? Maybe buy them a salad?Really, Katie? Regulating Fannie Mae was unimportant in a financial crisis fueled by government-sponsored mortgage lending?
We could go on and on, including Couric’s refusal to understand that when the Governor says she is pro-life, she makes no apologies, and given that the majority of the American public share that view, she shouldn’t have to.
The bottom line is that crony leftwing journalists haven’t changed their stripes, nor will they anytime soon. As the JournoList scandal revealed, they are beyond redemption, corrupt to the core. The question remains, what are we going to do about it?
Thankfully, we don’t have to let them dictate the terms of our national debate. And we shouldn’t at our own peril. Just as Governor Palin has gone around the liberal cronies with Facebook, Fox, Fox Business and talk radio, there’s a groundswell of conservative publishing and broadcasting that aims to counter and reverse the prevailing liberal narrative. From Newsmax, to Brietbart, to the forthcoming Tea Party Review magazine, conservatives have a helluva lot of alternative media with which to propagate our mainstream popular views.
That’s the future I hope Governor Palin will help us embrace, and one I’m prepared to fight for.
After all, life’s too short to spend time with people who are stuck in a liberal time warp. They may be able to see 2008 from their interview chairs, but they’re missing the real revolution.