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Sarah Palin and Jon Stewart agree on this: News media are bad influence

The media are berated as 'corrupt' (per Sarah Palin) and as a 'conflictinator' (per Jon Stewart). Is it a case of shooting the messenger, or did news media miss the mark in Election 2010?

By Staff writer / November 1, 2010

Sarah Palin (r.) campaigns for GOP Senate candidate John Raese, on Oct. 30, in Wheeling, W.Va.

Scott McCloskey/The News Register/AP

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A familiar bogeyman leapt back into the news this weekend – the media itself. Tarring of the media and its election coverage came from Fox News commentator Sarah Palin, who called a team of Alaskan TV newsfolk “corrupt bastards,” as well as Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, who closed his Saturday rally on the Washington Mall by saying the 24-hour news and media machine was “broke.” He coined a new term of derision for it: “conflictinator.”

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Even the nonpartisan Wesleyan Media Project added some fuel to the critique: This election cycle has the most negative political ads ever, with more than half being pure attack ads, according to its new data released Monday. Many campaigns count on the far-out content to propel the ads into the media spotlight.

In the wake of such a barrage, Sunday's news talk shows had a field day of self-dissection. On NBC’s "Hardball with Chris Matthews," the host parried with columnist and Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington in a high-pitched – if friendly – frenzy of proposed solutions. She called for no more demonizing by media personalities; he laughed at the idea that people should not argue. And The New York Times ran an op-ed piece chiding Mr. Stewart for berating the messenger rather than the message.

On the one hand, the flurry of criticism aimed at the media is indeed an exercise in shooting the messenger, says Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State University political scientist. The media are full of depressing, difficult stories that people don’t understand or know how to tackle, he says, from Afghanistan to the financial breakdown.

“In ancient times, when a runner came back from the front with bad news about how the war was going, it was so much easier for the king to pull out his sword and cut off his head,” he says. In some fundamental ways, the media's obligation to keep hard news before the public's view is neither appreciated nor valued, he adds.

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