Before becoming a newspaper columnist I was a broadcast news reporter for local TV stations and occasionally appeared on the NBC radio and television networks. I have some experience at being on the receiving end of hostilities directed at the media.
At a pro-Nixon, pro-Vietnam war rally I covered in the early ‘70s, a demonstrator looked at the NBC logo on my microphone and called me a “communist.” We had never met. He knew nothing about my politics or the quality of my reporting. He assumed that because I was covering the event for NBC I must be a left-wing radical.
While there is little doubt in the minds of most conservatives that a large majority of reporters and anchors at the national level hold liberal views, the way labels are applied to journalists does little to improve the quality of journalism, a profession that was once considered a craft before it became big business, eventually devolving into just another political megaphone.
The Trump administration has probably extracted maximum benefit from its frontal assault on the news media. It will not win converts by continuing the bashing. Even press critics must acknowledge that a free press is essential to a strong democracy.
Here is my proposal to simultaneously preserve and strengthen democracy, while encouraging the media to do a better job.
Reporters, producers and TV bookers are people with families and, in my experience, a sense of duty. Mostly, they are friendly people who are interested in finding and reporting the truth. Granted, their view of truth might be far different from most conservatives, but let’s start there.
The administration and other press critics should make a list of federal programs and the philosophies associated with them and conduct an objective study as to whether they have produced the advertised results. Feelings, intentions, even ideology should have no part in the study. Did the program and associated spending solve a problem? In terms of social services, were sufficient numbers of people helped and did those programs assist recipients to escape from government assistance and find jobs, or did they result in people becoming addicted to government, reducing their motivation?
How credible is it that someone would favor a program or support a philosophy that costs too much and delivers too little? Is the private sector having greater success in achieving certain desired ends far better than government? Many states are doing better than Washington in solving some problems. National reporters could be shown what success looks like outside the Beltway. They might ask members of Congress why they won’t embrace these models in the states they and their colleagues represent.
I have never seen anger and opposition convert anyone. Persuasion requires a relationship that includes respect for the other person and learning how they arrived at their point of view. I suspect most people don’t take the time to contact, much less develop relationships with journalists, or even know many people with views different from their own. Find something you can admire in a journalist’s reporting and send them a note that says so. It can include a suggestion of something they might have missed in their coverage. A reporter is more likely to consider such a suggestion if it is accompanied with praise, rather than a heavy dose of bile.
The media aren’t going away and while conservatives can — and should — continue to call out errors and bias, they ought to be at least as interested in changing hearts and minds, even minds that already seem made up.
• Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist. His latest book is “What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America” (Zondervan, 2014).
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