Thursday, September 4, 2008
Let me start by being perfectly clear: Many who work in the news media in this country are not liberal.
Now let me quickly add: Many who work in the news media in this country are very liberal.
Characterizing all members of the media as liberal or affiliated with the left-wing of the Democratic Party is unfair. But somehow since last Friday those who are on the left-wing of the media seem to have grabbed the microphones and the writing assignments to cover the biggest breaking news in the Republican Party. They look like one motley, wild-eyed liberal, crazed crew.
As a former staff member of one of the largest newspapers in the United States, I feel embarrassed by what many of my colleagues have said and done since Friday. I'm talking, of course, about the treatment of Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin.
What I don't understand is the irrationality of the media's behavior. I understand pack journalism. I've always found such herd mentality a contradiction to the independence and freedom reporters say they crave.
But what has occurred since Friday noon goes beyond all common sense and decency. Take Yahoo's lead story today: the story said Sarah had "seduced" her Republican and prime-time TV audience. If someone had used that word with a sexual connotation to describe Barack Obama's or Hillary Clinton's speeches at the Democratic Convention last week in Denver, he or she would have been lynched professionally. Or at least fired. That was a purely sexist, intolerable use of the word "seduced". The only good thing I can say about Yahoo!'s story is that it was better than anything else the organization has published about Sarah since Friday. Since Saturday I have filed numerous complaints with the outfit about its offensive and irrational coverage—something I have never done previously.
Even the stately and usually sedate Dallas Morning News today chose a headline that said, "Palin plays up part of outsider". Come on, folks! Is this all you can think of to characterize last night's knock-your-socks-off, electrifying address? One gets the impression the headline writer at the paper thinks Sarah's an actress. I thought she was the governor of the largest (geographically speaking) state in the union.
And then, of course, we see the obsession and compulsion the news media has displayed about the five Palin children, particularly one teen-age daughter and the family's new baby. Like the Kennedys and Carters before them, when Bill and Hillary Clinton first headed toward the White House, they made clear the fact that Chelsea was off-limits to the media. For the most part, members of the Fifth Estate respected the Clintons' request. The Obamas have for months made that same request. Even though I am a voracious reader of the news, I know very little about the Obama children, because once again members of the media have agreed to their request. But the poor Palin children? God help them! They are being ridiculed and maligned every day in the press. Why? Because their mother is running for Vice President of the United States?
This behavior smacks of discrimination against a mother who works outside the home. If so, where are the so-called liberals on this one? I thought they advocated women with small children having the right to have outside jobs. When my wife, Kay, and I wrote in 1982 our first book, When You Both Go to Work, about churches and their attitudes toward employed women, we expected to find that conservative religious groups discriminated against mothers with outside employment and that liberal religious groups supported them. Instead in our research we found that churches in affluent areas tend to frown on or discriminate against employed mothers while churches—of whatever theological stripe and denominational persuasion—in blue-collar areas and lower white-collar neighborhoods tend to be much more tolerant and supportive of women who have outside work. It really seems to be a matter of class rather than theology.
So is this horrible treatment of the Palin family a result of discrimination by rich elitists against a blue-collar, working family? One can surely make a case for that.
Or is this because the children's father is a blue-collar, oil-field worker who doesn't have the political know-how to muster his highly paid professional people to call a few select media moguls on the phone and threaten them with invasion-of-privacy suits on behalf of his children? Libel laws protect the news media when its members report on public figures. And yes, Sarah is now a public figure. According to the laws of the land, members of the media can say almost whatever they want in print about her without facing a libel suit, because she is a public figure. But her children are not covered by those same laws, or at least they should not be. They are citizens and individuals in their own right—citizens who deserve to be treated respectfully.
I thought the family on stage last night at the Republican Convention looked absolutely precious. And very courageous! Not too long ago families hid their out-of-wedlock-pregnant teen-age daughters to keep the neighbors from knowing. And their boyfriends who did the dastardly act were banished with a shotgun aimed at their backsides. And small children with Down Syndrome were hidden in back bedrooms. Not so in this family. Here they were—warts and all—on the public stage. They were so much more refreshing and looked so much more natural than all the millionares' children with choreographed waves and sculpted hairstyles at other Republican and Democratic Conventions in the last several decades.
I don't condone teen-age pregnancy, but it happens. And the Bible is clear how we are to treat each other when we sin or make mistakes! Obviously, many of my colleagues in the news media haven't read any of those Scriptures--or even Miss Manners--on such things.
The flip side of this media debacle is that the nation is getting a chance to look in the mirror and see a family that looks an awful lot like families all across America. And in so doing, the media may reap the opposite of what these ill-mannered reporters have desired. And, if Sarah can withstand the scorching heat of prejudice and irrationality, she may accomplish what many of us have wanted for a very long time: a woman in the White House or at least one heartbeat away from it.