Independent’s eye: Sorry Herman, that isn’t how the news media works
Posted: Monday, November 14, 2011 7:01 pm
By JOE GANDELMAN
Dear Mr. Cain:
When pressed by the media on lingering questions about sexual harassment allegations made against you, you seem to think that as a public figure you can unilaterally declare a story over and claim that journalists who persist are somehow violating a “journalistic Code of Ethics.”
It’s a bogus response. FYI, journalists and editors have an unspoken “Code of Employment,” which means if they don’t ask tough questions they aren’t real journalists and editors and they’ll join the ranks of the unemployed. Their J-O-B as required by employers and taught in journalism schools is to ask lingering questions, even when news sources don’t want them asked. If your “Co de of Ethics” response was valid then why didn’t LBJ demand reporters look at the code when he got questions on Vietnam or Richard Nixon hand out the code during Watergate? Why didn’t Anthony Weiner refer reporters to the code in between Tweets? It’s a hot-button-pushing, evasive answer designed to turn the media — not you — into the issue.
You tie Mitt Romney among Republicans in a recent Gallup Poll because you’ve become the Anti-Romney amid enduring conservative antipathy towards the former Massachusetts governor. Romney discards past principles faster than a reptile sheds skin. Mitt Romney has more positions than the Kama Sutra.
You have become the new hope for the GOP’s Tea Party/Populist wing in its battle for dominance with the GOP’s country club/businessman wing. A recent New York Times/Washington Post poll found Romney with support still stagnant at one quarter of the GOP electorate. Your key strength has been your firm convictions – that is, until the sexual harassment allegations emerged, and news of at least two hefty legal settlements you paid the alleged victims, and you seemingly tried to match Romney in Guinness Book of Records re-explanations.
This may sit well with Republicans who already like you, or with mega-partisan Fox News “interviewer” Sean Hannity, who spins enough to have an amusement park ride named after him.
But it won’t convince most working journalists and editors and won’t win over most independent voters and moderates.
Your problem is that your new public accuser Sharon Bialek’s account that you groped her sounds credible to many women and comes within the context of three other anonymous sexual harassment accusations. Your dismissive attitude helped keep this story in bloom and your blanket condemnation of “the media” clouds the distinction between pundits and reporters.
Mainstream and new media pundits analyze. Reporters are paid to do original interviews, ask tough questions, then package the info and present it to readers or vi ewers upon their editors’ approval. Your problem has been with working reporters and editors. You realized demonizing them could help you win conservative support — and it has.
Both left and right partisans detest the media unless its reports reflect poorly on the other party. Some left and right bloggers constantly belittle the “mainstream media.” But if all mainstream media print and broadcast news stories, comment columns and graphics were suddenly banned from these websites, many of these left and right “new media” websites would offer little more except regurgitations of their favorite talk show hosts’ rants.
If you’ve been a CEO then you know that in a p.r. crisis you acknowledge an error and get it behind you. You instead chose partial explanations, shifting stories, counter attacks, and the bogus “Code of Ethics” demand which kept this story alive.
You recently said: “When people get on the Cain train, they don’t get off.” Perhaps.
But an engineer who is operating a train recklessly can derail it.
Which is where you are headed if you remain on the same track.
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.
Published in The Messenger 11.14.11