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Saturday, December 08, 2007

"I get it!"

Reader-submitted question: What do you think about when individuals previously in the media suddenly run for a political election? Do you think that the coverage of these people can ever be truly unbiased when it is their former colleagues reporting on them?

This just happened in our last territorial election a few months ago, so I have a case study. CBC Television granted a leave of absence to the woman who hosted the local newscast. She then ran a campaign as well as she could. I'm trying to be kind. I pulled the title of this post from her lawn signs.

I thought CBC did a good job of staying unbiased in their coverage of her campaign. She was definitely a political newcomer with very little to offer, and they didn't pretend otherwise. Now, they didn't diss her, but they didn't give her any extra coverage than they would have given anyone else who didn't have support or, um, ideas. (She ended up with less than 3% of the vote.)

Name of Paper Withheld gave her some ink, but it was hardly flattering. I couldn't figure out if they were purposely being mean as a way of tearing down their rivals, or if she really deserved their scorn. Maybe it was a bit of both.

CBC's official blog for employees provided the kindest coverage, but that's probably appropriate considering it's the 2007 version of an employee newsletter.

It's hard to be truly unbiased when you know the candidate personally, but a good news organization will make a real effort to avoid accusations of bias during a campaign.

However, I think it's pretty clear that a journalist who is respected by his peers will get an easier ride once he gets into public office or a role on "the other side". Tony Snow is probably the best example of this. He likes them, they like him. Even when he had to be a bit of a jerk, he still came off well. He could give a decent sound bite and have fun with the questioners. Because he's a former journalist, he's comfortable with them. He can anticipate their questions and give them more or less what they need.

The Canadian example, of course, would be Michael Ignatieff, the deputy leader of the Liberal party. He was best known as a historian before he ran in the last federal election, but it's hard to become a famous historian without doing a lot of newspaper and TV work. Like the CBC host here, he was a political newcomer, but unlike the CBC host, he was famous for his work. I don't think he would have the support he does if the media hadn't been fawning all over him. He likes them and they like him. It's mutually beneficial: they get stories to please their editors, and he gets more press clippings.

Thanks for your question.


b*babbler said...

Hmm... I hadn't thought of the mutually beneficial angle to the media/former-media-person-turned-political player relationship. Very good point.

Thanks for the answer!

Karen said...

With all due respect, Megan, Ignatieff, while well-published, was never really a reporter. His print work was all about his opinions on various subjects related to his role as an historian. So it was really more aligned with his political life - opinion-based - than journalism.

Megan said...

You are correct, and I should have made that more clear: Ignatieff was an opinion writer, not a news reporter.