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Round Two Analysis & Discussion QuestionsBy Melvin J. Dubnick
PoliticsNow Classroom, April 29, 1997
In round two, PAUL STAROBIN reacts to comments of his colleagues with a mixture of agreement and disagreement. The public mistrust is real, he argues, and it goes beyond either what the polls indicate or what has been stirred up politically. A major factor complementing the growing distrust is the "balkanization" of news providers - a development allowing the public to draw their news from self-selected sources. This and other developments threaten a central role of the press: to promote "common conversation in America" about important issues. Despite these and related factors, Starobin remains optimistic that political reporting will remain a useful bargain.
SARAH MCCLENDON thinks a key problem is the press' preoccupation with the press. The media needs to focus on reporting what is happening in government and enhance that coverage with background information that reduces public ignorance. McClendon also reflects on her own partisan leanings - liberal and Democratic - but admits having voted Republican after much "crying" and "praying." As for press cynicism, she believes it has a negative influence on reporting but is overcome by doing their job: "The more they find out, the less cynical they are." The bottom line for McClendon is that "democracy and the press go together."
ED DIAMOND agrees with his colleagues that the issue is not what the public thinks about the press, but how good a job the press is doing what it is supposed to do: reporting the news. The problems that need addressing are those posing obstacles to reporting. Diamond calls for tackling critical trends that challenge political reporting, and he casts those issues as corporatization, junk culture, a-literacy, and ideological pressures that promote "lapdog behavior." These, he contends, are the factors that need to be addressed - and even investigated.
Discussion Questions1. As Ed Diamond indicates, all three participants indicate that the issue isn't what the public thinks about political reporting, but whether the press is doing a good job. How do you respond to this view? Should political reporters be more (or less) attentive to what the public thinks of them? Or should they strive for standards set by their peers in the journalism profession? Which approach do you believe best serves the requirements of a modern democracy?
2. Responding to the general charge of liberal bias, Sarah McClendon admits to her political leanings but argues they do not bias her coverage. If anything, she implies, her liberal bias makes her a better reporter. This raises the question of whether there exists a natural link between political reporting and a liberal perspective. Is there something about the requirements of political reporting that promotes a liberal bias - or does the reporting profession naturally attract people with liberal leanings? If this such a link exists, what (if anything) should be done to offset its influence on political reporting?
3. Paul Starobin is concerned that the growing diversity of the media - and the "balkanization" generated by the Internet - has an adverse impact on a central and traditional role of political reporting: to facilitate a "common conversation in America" about important issues. Do you agree that such a role is an important function of the media? If so, how well has it performed that role? Assuming room for improvement, what can the press do to enhance this "facilitating" role?