Thursday, February 14, 2013

Media Matters

I’m predisposed to be skeptical of complaints – from either side of the aisle – about the “mainstream” (or “beltway” or “corporate” or “lamestream”) media, but this story has me scratching my head. Under the headline “Obama State of the Union lands with a thud in Congress” and beginning with the line, “That went nowhere fast,” NBC News’ First Read ostensibly reports on Congress’ reaction to President Obama’s Tuesday night address, but in fact reads more like a Mitch McConnell campaign mailer. Remind me again what McConnell’s position is within the Senate leadership? Oh, right: Minority Leader. The article is almost entirely devoted to McConnell’s (absolutely unsurprising) outright rejection of the proposals the president advanced in his speech, along with some backup singing from Speaker of the House John Boehner. Only one Democratic member of Congress – California’s Maxine Waters – is even mentioned, and she’s given a two-word quote presented so without context that it’s unclear whether she’s responding to Boehner or the president.

It’s perfectly legitimate to report on Republican leaders’ reactions to the speech; it is not legitimate to present their reactions as the reaction of Congress as a whole, silently writing off nearly half of the House and the majority of the Senate. It is also not legitimate to suggest that the speech – which was popular with the public, and with Democratic and liberal commentators and opinion leaders, and (most relevantly to this story) with Democratic members of Congress – was a failure merely because the president’s two most predictable (not to say kneejerk) critics didn’t like it.

It would also be perfectly legitimate to present some analysis of the president’s proposals chances of being enacted by this Congress, which are admittedly slim for many of the specific ideas… but the article doesn’t do that, either: All it really does is give two partisans a podium from which to attack the president. That may be something, but it’s not reporting the news.

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