Thursday, January 17, 2008

Michele Norris wastes some of John Edwards’s time. . . and ours

As has now been acknowledged by practically everyone, John Edwards don’t get no respect. . . at least not when it comes to the establishment media. Not only is equal time for JRE pretty much an alien idea for media outlets, when Edwards does get airtime or column inches, reporters practically bend over backwards to avoid talking about his platform or proposals. To say that these reporters are too focused on covering the horserace is really an insult to sports reporting.

I have written in the past about the pettiness and whining that the New York Times tries to pawn off as equitable coverage; today, let’s examine what NPR calls campaign coverage.

National Public Radio has not been immune to Edwards-itis. They, like the rest of the establishment (and how sad is that NPR is now among “the rest of the establishment?”), have been hard-pressed to give the public as much news about Edwards as they have practically every other candidate. For instance, on the day after the Iowa caucuses, All Things Considered had reports from the campaigns of Clinton, Obama, McCain, Romney, and Huckabee—there was even a segment on a possible third-party run by Michael Bloomberg—but nothing from the campaign of the man that placed second in Iowa. In fact, they mentioned Edwards only twice—and when I say “mentioned” I mean “mentioned.” One mention was that a woman flipping pancakes was an Edwards supporter who wanted to talk about Clinton’s third place finish; the other was a two-second soundbite of Edwards saying that his campaign was like “Seabiscuit”—that quote was used as a segue to a piece about how the Huckabee campaign was like, um, yeah, Seabiscuit.

I guess the editors of ATC must have read the Project for Excellence in Journalism report, and, so, sent host Michelle Norris to spend a few minutes with John Edwards in Myrtle Beach, SC a few days ago, an on Wednesday, they got around to airing the “interview.”

First, the eight-minute piece spends about half its time talking to supporters and playing quotes that universally say something about how John Edwards needs to “win one.” Then, Norris talks with Edwards.

First Michele asks John about the dust-up between Clinton and Obama over race. Then she asks him if he thinks that the stirring up of racial tension is intentional. Edwards, for his part, tries hard to move the discussion forward.

Done asking about the other two candidates, Norris moves on to a battery of questions about. . . wait for it. . . the horserace.

What are your prospects in South Carolina? How well do you have to do in Nevada and South Carolina? What happens after South Carolina? Can you compete in the February 5th states? You say you’re in it for the long haul, but one of your supporters out there says you have to win one. Do you think it will be a brokered convention? Have you studied the rules for a brokered convention? You could be a kingmaker—have you thought about that? I have heard your answer about running for vice president, so I won’t ask you about that again. . . .

To that last point, John Edwards thanked her and quickly reiterated that he is not going to run for vice president. . . at which point Norris thanked him—and ended the interview.

(I should point out the above is a paraphrase of the interview—which I listened to twice. NPR writes a summary article, but does not put up a transcript on their website.)

This might make you think I’m a bit touched in the head, but I have to tell you that while I was listening to the interview (the first time), I began to shout at my radio: “Ask him a f@#%ing question about an issue!” But, now that I have had half a day to cool off, let me put it n more civilized terms:

Ask him an effin’ question about an issue!

No. . . wait. . . I really am loath to tell Michele Norris how to do her job—but someone has to tell her that what she conducted was not a news interview. It was something more like a gossip column. Or, more accurately, like something you would see on Extra or Access Hollywood.

A news reporter would have tried to tease out some news, you see. She would have asked something like, “What about your candidacy resonates with the voters here in South Carolina?” Or, “What issue do you get asked about most here in the Palmetto State?” And, then, “How do your solutions to these problems differ from those of your main rivals?”

That would not only be useful, it would be interesting. Which really shouldn’t be too much to ask from a news program. Hell, it might even be advantageous for them—because if I’m anything like most folks who listen to the program, we are bored, bored, bored with talk about the horserace. Indeed, I am willing to wager that I am not the only one who finds it especially ridiculous to try to get the horses to handicap the horserace—which is exactly what Norris repeatedly tried to get Edwards to do.

Doubly annoying, of course, is that NPR will now use this piece as an example of how they are covering John Edwards. I also expect that if there were another survey of campaign coverage, this ATC piece would be counted as Edwards coverage.

But, of course, it isn’t coverage at all. What did we learn about John Edwards from this piece? That he’s running for president? That he’s in it to win it? Well, no shit. Did we learn about his strong support for labor unions? His plan to revitalize rural America? His plan to end combat operations in Iraq during his first ten months as President? How about his belief in the right to bear arms (a position on which I will admit I differ with JRE)?

Further, was there a report on how Edwards did in the Nevada debate the night before? Was there a report on the debate at all? I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up—no, there was not. Likely, a report on the debate was not deemed newsworthy since there was not much talk about the horserace, eight questions on race failed to provoke a pie fight, and the last hour or so actually had some discussion of policy positions.

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So, it looks like we’ll have to get the word out ourselves. If you can get to Nevada or South Carolina, please consider volunteering. If you can’t make it, there is phonebanking to be done. And for those in the area of New York’s Union Square, there is a rally this Saturday, January 19th, from 11am to 2pm, near the corner of Broadway and 17th Street.

And, of course, tomorrow is Friday, which means it’s time to raise $7 million to get the word out!

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