Perpetuating Media Myths: How Politicians Get Away with Dodging Reporters

14 Aug

Sometimes, we believe that if you say something enough times, it becomes true. That’s actually never the case; but if you say something enough times, people will start to believe it’s true. Take for example, the narrative perpetuated by conservatives today that the media possesses an inherent liberal bias. The “liberal media bias” is a myth of particular danger to our free society because perpetuating this very notion allows politicians on the Right to dodge accountability for any other their actions because whatever they do, they can always claim it was the liberal media bias that is “spinning” the story to make them look bad. This kind of farce argues that investigative journalism is nothing more than a smear campaign. It’s the notion of muckrakers all over again. We’ve reached a point in society where we question perception more than we consider facts. Instead of countering stories on merit, we see public figures slam their detractors with ad hominem attacks. The easiest PR move a politician can make when questioned is to simply question the partiality of the questioner.

Official portrait of United States Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Defenders of Anthony Weiner dismissed accusations that Weiner sent lewd photos to women over Twitter by pointing out that Andrew Breitbart had a history of manipulating facts to perpetuate a conservative agenda, most flagrantly by editing a video of Shirley Sherrod to make it seem like she was giving a racist speech (the exact opposite of what her speech was actually about). Breitbart was gravely unethical and patently dishonest with his coverage of Sherrod, but he did happen to be right about the Weiner scandal. I don’t have anything even resembling praise for Breitbart, but I think that his track record as a “journalist” proves that public figures should treat journalists and detractors as investigators. I sometimes wonder how differently things would have went for Weiner if he had been honest from the start of his scandal instead of denying facts he knew to be true.

The case of Anthony Weiner is a sensational instance of a politician dismissing valid inquiry by waging an ad hominem attack on the inquirer. But many more subtle, equally as wrong, cases of this behavior happen on a daily basis –especially with regards to conservatives using “liberal media bias” as a shield to stave off hard-hitting journalism. Take a look at Sarah Palin’s monumental gaffe in which she argued that Paul Revere was some sort of NRA-shill who warned us that the British were trying to take away our arms. She then went on to claim it was a “shout-out gotcha” question on Fox News. Palin’s repeated avoidance of what she calls the “lamestream” media in favor of taking softie questions at Fox falls into her habit of playing the victim every time she looks bad in the press, which is often. Newt Gingrich astonishingly even tried this trick on his own ilk at the GOP debate.

Crying “lamestream media” at every hint of serious questioning has escalated too far. Because conservative politicians now know they can just go over to Fox News to announce things -with a positive spin free of charge courtesy of Roger Ailes – and that the mainstream networks will play clips of it later anyway, they’ve successfully been able to stave off the kind of serious journalistic inquiry needed, especially during an election. In Iowa Michele Bachmann snubbed Don Lemon of CNN with a placid smile and a crowd of protective handlers. Don Lemon is now claiming Marcus Bachmann, Michele’s husband whom she is “submissive” to, pushed him. The video is below, so you can decide for yourself if you want to see this as a crowd-gone wild situation where Bachmann needed to escape quickly, or part of the broader efforts of the Republican party to deflect and ignore all journalists not openly associated with their political ideology.

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