Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Media’s 2012 job: dishing up embarrassing old quotes

Express Staff Writer

In past political campaigns, most of the major media's coverage of candidates read like a stenographer's notes of verbatim quotes. This supposedly was proof of fairness and objectivity.

But coverage also meant incomplete and often misleading information. Merely reporting current promises and claims allowed candidates to switch positions without fear the contradictions would be reported.

That's changing. Reporters are digging into old video and print archives and finding delicious proof of candidate hypocrisy.

Newt Gingrich froze when an early 1990s video clip, in which Gingrich advocated what now is key to President Obama's health care plan, was shown on "Meet the Press." Principles and positions showcased in past campaigns have confronted other candidates, too.

Voter blocs are more demanding than ever that candidates stand for what special interests want today, not what candidates preached in the past. Whereupon, if there's a change and the media discovers the switch, candidates must weasel or explain.

Political news travels fast and far. Traditional media form only part of the system. Social networks, specialty blogs and Internet news services are just as skilled in breaking stories as Washington media. Radio and TV talk shows keep political embarrassments alive, too. Sound and video bites don't go away.

Retro candidates who've been out of the swim for over a decade don't understand this. Gingrich, for example, looked positively silly when he tried to characterize his disastrous appearance on "Meet the Press" as a liberal media ambush. The tape of his blundering words is being replayed on TV and on the Internet.

Gingrich also made himself look ridiculous when he threatened to condemn as "falsehoods" anyone quoting botched statements from the program that he later disowned. He believes what he said should disappear.

There's no parallel, however, between improved political news coverage and whether voting becomes more intelligent and discriminating. Some voter blocs care only whether a candidate is "liberal" or "conservative" (Do they know the difference?) or endorsed by their ideological group's leaders (read, Tea Party, National Rifle Association, anti-abortionists, etc.) What percentage doesn't like a black president?

Growing dissatisfaction with both parties has led, happily, to a rapid growth in independent voters, who seem genuinely concerned about candidate quality and integrity, not ideological rubber-stamping and talking-point recitations that please party elders.

The return of a well-read, well-spoken intellectual to the White House also means Republican candidates will be compared to President Obama in ways disassociated from policy. Their image must be of poised, highly informed leaders, not just hot-headed partisan regulars slugging it out for caucus votes.

Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

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