Who’s keeping them honest? The relationship between the media and politics

How many in the media had an absolute fit when former Fox News broadcaster Tony Snow was hired as the press secretary for George W. Bush?  How many of them had a fit when Karl Rove was hired by Fox as a commentator?  How many of those same people had a problem with James Carville and George Stephanopoulos going into the media?

When Snow was hired as press secretary, the liberal media proclaimed that this was evidence of the fact that he was always biased.  They claimed that if there wasn’t an incestuous relationship betweeen Fox News and the Bush Administration, there was at least collusion.  Then when Karl Rove was hired as a commentator for Fox News, the liberal media proclaimed that this was evidence that Fox News was biased all along.  When Clinton advisors Carville and Stephanopoulos were hired by the CNN and ABC respectively, if the liberal media said anything about it at all they said Tim Russert worked for Moynihan and Mario Cuomo and Diane Sawyer worked for Nixon.  These incestuous relationships have been occurring a lot lately, and it only appears to be getting worse:

Record 19 reporters, media execs join Team Obama

For some Washington reporters and media executives, cheering their team from the sidelines just isn’t good enough anymore: Tugging on a red, white and blue Team Obama jersey is the answer.

That’s the case for a whopping 19 journalists and media executives, including five from the Washington Post and three each from ABC and CNN, who’ve gone into the administration or center-left groups supporting the president.
Those inside the administration hit 14 this month when the Post’s Stephen Barr joined the Labor Department. “That’s a record,” say some revolving door watchers, and could even be much higher: The Post reports that “dozens” of former journalists have joined the administration, although Washington Secrets couldn’t verify that tally.
Many are in communications and speech writing offices, most prominently Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman who ran Time’s Washington bureau. He is also husband to ABC’s Claire Shipman. Some joined as the news business collapsed, many to finally voice their politics, and others, notably former Transportation spokeswoman Jill Zuckman, because she liked her future boss, Secretary Ray LaHood, a rare Republican in the administration. That relationship rocked: LaHood broke through the lower-tier Cabinet P.R. ceiling to become one of the most well-known Transportation secretaries ever. She had worked for the Chicago Tribune.

The revolving door isn’t a surprise to critics of the media and Obama. “The number of reporters going into the Obama administration merely confirms what I knew and what most conservatives long believed,” said Noam Neusner, himself one of the few reporters hired as a Bush speech writer. “There is a vast supply of liberals in newsrooms, they are very happy to support Obama administration policies if they can get hired and they barely hide their ideology in the way they cover the news.” Neusner, who I worked with at U.S. News, said that he too might have been guilty of a pro-Bush bias, but said correctly: “My editors and colleagues were surprised to hear that I was a Republican.”

A former GOP Capitol Hill and cabinet spokesman added, “It’s frustrating to see so many reporters that had relationships with trusted sources give up their ‘impartiality’ and start playing for the other side. It does show that the game is stacked in favor of the other side when most reporters still working in their profession remain silent.”
Stephen Hess, a presidential and journalism scholar at the Brookings Institution, said reporters can be “conflicted” when they trade places. “On the other hand,” he added, “reporters going back to journalism after a stint in government are always better reporters in that they now understand how government really works.”


How long has this incestuous relationship been going on between the media and politics in America?  Some would say you can trace it all the way back to the Thomas Jefferson hiring the muckraker James Callender to slander the name of presidential opponent John Adams.  Others would argue it probably goes back even further than that.

How many people were stunned, STUNNED, by the partisan vitriol coming from the mouths of former broadcasters Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel, and Dan Rather following their careers?  All right, no one was stunned by Rather’s comments, but the other guys mentioned above appeared to be unbiased in their news reportage.

Some would say that these professionals were always non-partisan when they were on the air.  AH, but there’s the rub on the matter: On the air.  Conservative writers have often said that that which occurs behind the scenes of news studios is often as important, if not more, than what you see broadcasted.  Hearing the partisan vitriol that comes out of the mouths of these former broadcasters one cannot help but think that their passionate stances may have caused them to spike stories that were not helpful to their cause.

Those who defend, and applaud, such moves would tell you that those in the media and politics tend to gather a wealth of information in their chosen professions that makes them an interesting analyst for the other side of the aisle.  It’s a decent point, until you start to wonder about the associations and relationships that are developed along the way.  If those in the media developed a proper adversarial relationship with a George Stephanopoulosm, for example, would he really be welcomed with open arms at ABC?  If a James Carville genuinely believed that CNN gave Bill Clinton, and their administration, a hard time, would he really be willing to take a seat on their stage?

Montesquieu called the media, “the forth pillar of Democracy.”  He said that “the media fulfilled the important role of shaping public opinion.”  He said, “In turn, public opinion is the ultimate check in the checks and balance system designed to ensure equal and balanced authorities between the three branches (pillars) of government, namely: Executive (apply the law), Legislative (write the law), Judicial (interpret the law). The media can be seen as an equally important pillar to this balance because its role is to ring the alarm bells in cases of abuse of power, corruption etc. A further way of keeping the system honest.”

With so many incestuous relationships now occurring between the four pillars of our Democracy, the question is how well are we doing at keeping the system honest?


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