The presidential race is approaching the home-stretch now, and the media frenzy to cover every detail of the candidates’ each and every move is becoming circus-like. But, with as much as there is on the line, I suppose this is to be expected. I suppose, too, that we should appreciate this fact about American politics. Today the media is so thorough in its investigation of public figures that it is impossible to rise to national public office without having your private life exposed. So if you aspire to work on Capitol Hill and have moral skeletons in your closet, then be prepared to see those bones hauled out into the light of day for all America to view.
It wasn’t always like this. The extent of FDR’s health problems were held under wraps by the press, as were Kennedy’s adulterous liaisons. But media-enabled cover-ups ended with Watergate. Although it did not concern a personal indiscretion—it was a conspiratorial Republican plot to sabotage the Democrat political machine—this scandal created (or compounded) public suspicion toward our leaders. Criminal corruption, we learned, really can go to the top. Consequently, the media has been vigilant to scour every national politician and candidate for office to keep the American public informed as to their real character. So I say good job, American media.
But there is something that bothers me, and with every new public scandal my annoyance grows. While the media are tireless in their investigation of public figures, including the private lives of athletes and celebrities, they have immunized themselves to investigation. In short, the media protect their own-mainly by not reporting ethical indiscretions of other journalists and reporters. When was the last time you saw a report about a scandal involving a journalist or television news anchor? Probably the only ones that come to your mind are those involving the Jayson Blair and Dan Rather or some other media person’s sins against their profession. That’s because this is the lone exception-the media will only “out” those whose immoral behavior undermines the media itself. Otherwise, it appears, they are given a pass.
So as ethics scandals constantly rock the worlds of politics, business, sports, and entertainment, almost never do we hear of scandals among media personnel. Not that we need more evidence of media bias, but this is especially exasperating because it doesn’t involve mere spinning of stories but constitutes turning a blind eye to bad behavior. And the problem is not isolated but systemic. Shame on you, American media.
What we need is a meta-media agency, a troupe of reporters whose special task is to investigate journalists and reporters to the same degree of rigor that other high-profile professionals are investigated. How I’d love to see the media get a taste of their own medicine. And how I’d love to see this effect a greater sense of fairness and discretion when it comes to media reports about personal issues that really have no place in public discussions.
Or maybe all we need is just a few courageous reporters who have the moral will to break this code of silence-to start holding their own profession to the same ethical standards to which they hold everyone else. Now that would be historic. Then I really could be proud of you, American media.