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The Media and Politics — Why is the Line So Fuzzy?

September 4th, 2012

Open up any history book, and you’ll see what a big role Ben Franklin played in the earliest days of American politics.  Among his many accomplishments, Franklin spent time in the Pennsylvania Assembly, the Constitutional Convention, and the Continental Congress.

But did you know that Franklin was also a newspaper man?

He owned — and wrote articles for — the Pennsylvania Gazette.  He even drew America’s very first political cartoon — a snake carved up into pieces, with the words “Join, or Die” underneath it.  Each portion of the snake represented a Colony.  Its message was clear — stand together against British rule.

But what would we say if one of the current leaders in Washington owned, wrote for, and drew cartoons for a newspaper?  Would we argue that the politician’s views were getting in the way of news-telling?

Sadly, it’s not the politicians we have to worry about.  These days, it’s the reporters who seem to be getting in the way of news-telling!

Decades ago, TV stations and newspapers forbid reporters and anchors from even having political bumper stickers on their cars — much less sharing any political views on the air or in print.  Today, political opinions are flying around on every channel!

Just check out some of the headlines surrounding Mitt Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention:

From NBC News:

“Will Romney exploit the same ‘facts’ Ryan did in the biggest speech of his life?”

From the Associated Press:

“Romney’s deficit vow is shallow”

From the Washington Post:

“Romney’s rushed, muddled speech”

From Vanity Fair:

“Mitt Romney’s best-yet speech is (finally) heartfelt”

There are news outlet attacks on both sides of the aisle, and these are only some of the most recent examples.  But after seeing some of these latest headlines, you can’t help but wonder — when did sarcasm and personal attacks become news?  When did the author’s opinions become bigger than the story?  What happened to reporting the who, what, where, when, why — and leaving it at that?


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