The Fourth Estate

Paul Krugman has an excellent column in today’s New York Times about press coverage of the presidential debates. Here’s the opening:

In Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney completely misrepresented how we ended up in Iraq. Later, Mike Huckabee mistakenly claimed that it was Ronald Reagan’s birthday.

Guess which remark The Washington Post identified as the “gaffe of the night”?

Folks, this is serious. If early campaign reporting is any guide, the bad media habits that helped install the worst president ever in the White House haven’t changed a bit.

After watching Bill Moyer’s special, “Buying the War,” on the Washington press corps’ complicity in perpetuating mistruths about the Iraq War, I had hoped that maybe they would be shamed into doing their job. I’m losing that hope.

Krugman goes on to discuss how the coverage of the debates focuses on candidates’ acting and speaking skills. As long as they can state a lie convincingly, no one calls them on the fact that it’s a lie.

This is how we got Bush over Gore. How we got Bush over Kerry. Heaven forbid this is how we’ll get Romney over Obama or Giuliani over Edwards.

Being President is not about “looking presidential” or being “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with.” (Speaking of which, doesn’t he know that even NA beers have alcohol?)

Yes, voters must take the responsibility themselves to look past the surface and to listen to what candidates are really saying. But it’s the reporters who have the opportunity to be our voice, to ask important questions, to challenge misleading statements. Not to be ventriloquists dummies, with Bush’s hand up their asses making their mouths move (the “scripted” press conference in this clip is disgraceful).

No wonder they were so uncomfortable when Stephen Colbert explained how it works last year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

“But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works: the president makes decisions. He’s the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put them through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you’ve got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know—fiction!” (Watch the video to relive the best dinner entertainment ever.)

Or maybe they could do their job instead of leaving it to a comedian on basic cable to plead, “Why don’t you call them on their bullshit on the air?”

I know it’s often an easy out to blame the media, especially when we the public are sometimes only getting what we ask for. But when a candidate for president says that invading Iraq prevented another 9/11, I don’t have the opportunity to ask, “Really?” I don’t have the chance to demand that s/he explain the connection. I depend on the press to be my voice, to ask real questions and demand more than a condescending smile and a slick prepared soundbyte.

Instead, they give me 24-hour coverage of the Paris Hilton jail saga.



  1. June 9, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    […] the fourth estate  The Fourth Estate […]

  2. June 10, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    […] my blog yesterday criticizing the press for not questioning candidates when they utter misleading statements or give […]

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