Leading Questions, “Gotcha Journalism,” and Media Complicity

We discussed in class yesterday extensively about Mayhill Fowler, whose question about a “hatchet job” seemed to spark controversy when it wasn’t 100 percent clear whether former president Bill Clinton, who went on a rant after the question about the sleazy reporter who composed it, knew she was a reporter.

I agree with those in class who also emphasized that it was clear he must have known she was likely to be a reporter, given that she held out a recorder. And even if she didn’t, he is absolutely responsible as a public official to be cautious of what he might not want to say. He has different standards for libel suits; he knows this. He is on a platform that is different from private people and was the Commander-in-Chief for two terms. You aren’t the victim here, Billy boy.

Furthermore, this reminded me of the Sarah Palin’s “gotcha journalism” excuse–this was after Katie Couric asked her questions that didn’t even seem to be all that incendiary, with the exception perhaps of one about Pakistan. In the end, Palin’s interview was not conducted with some kind of malicious intent. Presidents, presidential and vice presidential candidates, anyone who’s a public official needs to simply realize that they live in a world of information dissemination.

This is great for journalists, truth-seekers, and activists/advocates of all kind trying to get out what’s happening globally. However, it seems to have inadvertently made politicians much worse at what they do despite the more extensive level of access to their speeches and press conferences.

And of course, the worst thing we could do is discourage tough journalism in light of these situations. Media complicity–asking questions that are obvious to get even more obvious answers–does not too much good for the American public. It allows the politicians and their corporate sponsors to continue to craft mainstream narratives as they please. Without hardball questioning and those willing to put people in power in a tight spot, we will not be able to build a comprehensive understanding of local, national and global politics. We need to dig out the secrets, the full-truths, the confessions, or the uncertainties if we want to begin to unearth the systematic mechanics of the U.S. political and economic structures.

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