When a public figure attacks journalism, reporters should see it as an opportunity to help people understand what reporters do and why they should continue to exist.
I mean, if journalists don’t defend themselves, who will? Academics? Maybe, but who cares?
And if only the marginalized and irrelevant characters are defending journalism, you have to think the profession will sink even faster than it is now.
In July, for example, Rep. Cory Gardner said on Grassroots Radio Colorado that “the media” is biased against people like him who believe in smaller government, but as far as I know, no journalist has reported why Gardner believes this, much less responded to it.
Last week, Secretary of State Scott Gessler said “a lot of the mainstream media” are “fine” with Republicans as long as they “don’t make waves.” But if Republicans, presumably like Gessler himself, “challenge the status quo,” then then the media get upset.
Here’s a chance for journalists to explain 1) whether they’ve been “upset” at Gessler, and 2) why their coverage of him has been in the public interest.
But no such stories have been written, even though Gessler’s attack on the media appeared in The Denver Post’s Spot blog.
Then over the weekend, The Post served up a story about Gerry Whitman lashing out at the media during a farewell news conference, saying the news media’s portrayal of his department was “just ridiculous” and stories about excessive force have been overblown.
Another opportunity for journalists to stand up for themselves! But I noticed little or no such self defense in the article.
So I emailed Post reporter Kirk Mitchell, who wrote the Whitman article, and told him that when a public official attacks the media, I think reporters should treat the accusation as they would in any other news story, and present readers with a response from the entity that’s attacked.
Why didn’t he offer a quotation from a Post editor or another journalist about whether the media’s police coverage was fair.
He wrote back, “The story did mention that there were 10 police firings since March.”
True, that’s indeed a response, but let’s face it. It’s weak (and it was left out of the online edition). Here’s the graf Mitchell refers to:
[Whitman's] comments came during a year in which 10 of his officers have been fired since March, six after lying about excessive-force complaints.
The Post could have fired back at Whitman with more force, if not excessive force. An editor might have blasted him with something like:
It’s a newspaper’s job to inform the public about lying and violent-happy cops, especially when they get fired. That’s why we’re here. That’s how journalism holds public officials accountable. Rather than attacking us, Whitman might advise his own police force to behave better under the next chief, so that the Police Department’s problems won’t be in the newspaper. Until then, we’ll continue to give our readers the truth, to the best of our ability.
You probably won’t see anything like this in The Denver Post anytime soon, though I’m glad to see Post Editor Greg Moore defending the newspaper’s coverage more often on high-profile stories, including his newspaper’s handling of Mayor Michael Hancock’s alleged use of prostitutes and Scott McInnis’ non-use of a plagiarism checker.
You’re more likely to find outfits like “Fair and Balanced” Fox News get self rightious about what it does, even though it’s far less likely to be fair and accurate than the mainstream media in Denver.
Unfortunately, it seems that the more serious the news outlet, the less likely it is to get mad and defend itself, as if this is beneath it or something.
My advice is, fight back, while you still can.