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ARCHIVES: Bad News Is Not Media’s Fault (1992)

A pull quote from a 1992 article published in The Statesman. Editor David Joachim criticizes politicians for blaming bad news on the media. STATESMAN FILE

Originally published on October 5, 1992

George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot may stand on different steps on the ideological staircase, but on one philosophy they all agree: When in doubt, blame the press. 

Indeed, we expect politicians to try to deflect criticism by discrediting those who widely circulate “negative” information. The tragic part is that we are having trouble deciding who to believe. 

Though it’s less than ironic, Americans hate the press more than they hate politicians. And it’s no different on campus. 

Student government officials have spent more time this semester discrediting the media, including Statesman, than answering relevant questions. 

I’m sure we would all agree that it wasn’t The New York Post’s fault that the president cheated on his wife. It wasn’t The Washington Post’s fault that the governor dodged the draft. And it wasn’t The New York Times’ fault that the billionaire hired private investigators to probe his own advisers. But they all had similar reactions when hit with these and other pertinent charges. Like a father whose child catches him in a lie, public officials seem offended that we would even imply dishonesty. Politicians tend to cower and point fingers instead of fessing up. Of course, they realize shooting the messenger would be political suicide, so they just slap him around a bit. 

Closer to home, it wasn’t Statesman’s fault that then-Polity treasurer, now-President David Greene submitted his student budget six weeks late, stalling the budget process last semester. It wasn’t the paper’s fault that the Polity Council used student money for a spring trip to Florida. It wasn’t the media’s fault that Senator Vincent Bruzzese suggested that a student club forge its constitution to swindle money out of Polity. And it certainly wasn’t my fault that Polity docked Greene’s pay last semester for keeping a Polity-funded rental car for four days of private use.

Moreover, it wasn’t Statesman’s fault that student government officers raised their pay during the summer as one of their first acts in office, making their maximum stipends the highest in the state university system. And it wasn’t our fault that Greene spent $200 in student money to defend his actions in a full-page ad.

But that doesn’t stop many student government senators from crying foul when the paper examines these issues and scrutinizes our Polity officials. The problem isn’t here, guys, it’s right next to you. 

Bush threatens an NBC reporter, Clinton whines and points fingers, Perot drops out of the race and Greene calls the campus newspaper names. They’re no different.

For some reason, however, the public sees media as the bad guys. I guess Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Robert Greene says it best in his investigative reporting class here: You can write a story proving a public official robs taxpayers blind, but you can’t make taxpayers do anything about it. 

When journalists try to reveal dishonesty, the public says they’re being unfair. But in fact, the press has been soft on this year’s presidential candidates. Remember Gary Hart in 1984? He was balsy enough to challenge the media to catch him getting around. And they did. 

Certainly, investigative reporters have found more evidence during this race than has been published in the mainstream. Spy magazine, for example, accused the president of marital infidelity in May, but The New York Post and the rest of the mainstream press didn’t pick it up until August. That’s because much of the mainstream press is pressured by the public’s rejection of investigative journalism. After all, if we hate bad news, we won’t buy it.

It’s too bad we don’t like to buy bad news, because hating the press for bad news is like a student hating a teacher for a bad grade. It’s only when we admit that we earned the F that we can work to improve it.

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