How the media blur the picture
Washington — "And now," the convention anchor man said, "we will take you back to hear how Congressman Kemp is summing up his speech." The camera then moved to Kemp at the podium as he utteredabout nine out-of-context, meaningless, final words.
This was typical of the way the TV networks quite arbitrarily moved their cameras away from speeches and other action on the convention podium to interviews with their own panelists or with delegates, or to anything they deemed to be more important than what was happening on center state.
In conversations with a fair number of TV viewers since the convention, I have found them all registering protests about the television coverage. The essence of their unhappiness was that TV had warped of their unhappiness was that TV had warped the convention, made it something it really wasn't. They all seemed to feel that television had gotten in the way of their viewing the convention as it truly was.
National opinion polls continue to show a high percentage of the American people expressing discontent with the news media, particularly TV but also the press at large. And one of the persistent themes of unhappiness boils dows to a point made about convention coverage in Detroit: The news media too often inject themselves into their reporting and thus get in the way of the viewers' or readers' ability to see what really is going on and thereby make up their own minds.
Is coverage of the Democratic convention in New York and then in the campaign to follow likely to inspire new public confidence in the news madia? It doesn't seem likely.
While the TV networks talk about their expert coverage, they clearly operate by their own rules -- stage-managing and producing a product that often comes out as an effort to entertain rather than to reflect accurately what is happening.
Who can forget how television at the Republican convention gave viewers the impression that the ticket was Reagan and Ford? That was it, some voices said. It was all over. Many people went to bed thinking that was true. Some TV people even bragged that night how they had forecast this result.
A few papers got sucked into echoing TV's conclusion that it was Reagan and Ford. But it was mainly television. It was great drama -- but questionable reporting. It did nothing to add to the credibility of the news media.
So what do we get from now on? Probably more show-biz from television -- along of course with some excellent reporting, too, from some of the best reporters in the journalism business. One must, in fairness, emphasize that television does have its reportorial stars. But their commendable efforts tend to be subordinated as the TV producers see to it that the fare they broadcast keeps the viewing audience as interested and entertained as possible.
But how about the print media? Will it stick closer to the facts than does TV? Probably.
However, I am troubled by advice recently heard from several columnists and commentators to the effect that the chief job of the press now is to bear down heavily on Ronald Reagan and watch and test his ideas and abilities. They contend reporters have pretty much done this with Jimmy Carter. And now, they say in effect, let's give it to Reagan.
Reporters aren't supposed to "give it" to anyone. They aren't supposed to test or make judgments. It is clearly up to their editors or publishers to deal editorially with a candidate or issues.
The reporters covering Reagan and Carter should provide the thorough scrutiny of their backgrounds, records, and public utterances which voters need to make intelligent judgments. But it is voters -- not reporters -- who are supposed to test and judge a candidate.
Most political reporters will provide responsible coverage in New York and during the campaign that lies ahead. But the likelihood is that enough reporters in the print as well as TV media, will inject themselves and their views into their coverage just enough so that many voters once again will feel that the press has gotten in their way.