Tuesday, June 25, 2013

More on bypassing the press

To continue the conversation we started here, hit this link to read what the New York Times' Frank Bruni has to say about politicians -- recently, Michelle Bachmann and Anthony Weiner -- using social media to bypass the press altogether in getting their messages out via online videos: Bachmann, in bowing out of politics (for now) and Weiner, for bowing in.  He also mentions a video by Hillary Clinton, endorsing gay marriage.

The problem is obvious: going directly to the public eliminates the need for a politician to answer any questions that might be posed at an in-person press conference by pesky reporters.  Now, as Bruni acknowledges, going straight to the voters via video, all from the comfort of a candidate's office, might have a benefit: eliminating the need for constant stumping on the campaign trail which would could allow more time for actual work to get done.  Costs less, too, which might reduce the need for campaign cash.  He also suggests that cynical reporters -- on the look out for the latest dirt and focussing on the contest, rather than the content -- may have brought this isolation on themselves. 

However, as Bruni writes, there may be a high price to pay:
The Clinton, Weiner and Bachmann videos, all different but related, simply ratchet up the effort to marginalize naysaying reporters and neutralize skeptical reporting. And as Chris Lehane, a Democratic political strategist, pointed out to me, they take a page from corporate America, whose chieftains have used that same format, as opposed to news conferences or interviews, to distribute sensitive communiqu├ęs. Lehane mentioned, for example, the 2007 video in which David Neeleman, then the C.E.O. of JetBlue, explained the airline’s brand-quaking operations meltdown. 

But corporations answer only to shareholders and customers. Politicians answer to all of us, and have a scarier kind of power, easily abused. So we must see them in environments that aren’t necessarily tailored to their advantage. We must be able to poke and meddle. It may not be a pretty sight, and we journalists may not be doing it in a pretty way, but eliminate that and you wind up with something even less pretty: Bachmann, robotically composed, telling you that she’s quitting for purely high-minded reasons, with the vigor of the republic foremost in her heart.
The title of the piece is a question: "Who Needs Reporters?"  The answer is:  all of us.  bk

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