Monday, July 07, 2008

We all suffer when journalists lower the bar

Christine is right, professional journalists should set a higher standard, and I'm not pointing a finger at any one journalist, I'm pointing a finger at all of them. People like Bob Schieffer, Rick Klein and others criticized General Wesley Clark (and his defenders) for attacking John McCain’s military service record when he actually only questioned the relevance of McCain’s combat experience as it relates to being president. A good journalist would have handled it differently according to the Columbia Journalism Review:
Clark’s comments may (or may not) have been impolitic. But that has no bearing on their validity or lack thereof — which is how the news media should be evaluating them.
In fact, if the media had bothered to look a little, they would have found that McCain himself has argued that military service is not sufficient alone to qualify a person to be president. The Wonkroom found these McCain statements:
  • During an interview with National Journal, John McCain was asked if “military service inherently makes somebody better equipped to be commander-in-chief.” McCain said, “Absolutely not…I absolutely don’t believe that it’s necessary.” [National Journal, 2/15/2003]

  • I believe that military service is the most honorable endeavor an American may undertake. But I’ve never believed that lack of military service disqualifies one from occupying positions of political leadership or as Commander and Chief. In America, the people are sovereign, and they decide who is and is not qualified to lead us. [American Legion Speech, 9/7/1999]

  • Earlier this year at Washington’s Gridiron Club, where humor is the required fare, McCain lay bare what underlies his candidacy. Wearing a jacket outlandishly festooned with dozens of fake military medals, McCain said, “The question I ask myself every morning while shaving in front of the mirror is: OK, John, you’re an incredible war hero, an inspiration to all Americans. But what qualifies you to be president of the United States?” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/7/1999]
  • In fact, there's reason to believe McCain even questioned his own military accomplishments or lack thereof. The NY Times wrote in 2000 that McCain did a little soul searching back in 1979 and lamented that he would never make admiral like his father and grandfather. The Times said...
    ...he had always dreamed of doing something great, of imprinting his name on the history books, but at age 42 he found himself with a stuttering military career and no base from which to go into politics.
    Shortly after that soul searching, McCain found a way to jump start his political career. He met Cindy at a cocktail party, divorced his first wife the following year, and then married Cindy, heiress to the one of the largest Anheuser-Busch beer distributors in the country. It was her father's business and political contacts that helped McCain gain a foothold into Arizona politics, and McCain's war hero status helped give him name recognition.

    The media was so busy slamming Wesley Clark that they failed to mention those points. They also failed to mention that the General had actually been shot four times in Vietnam, and left the country on a stretcher. If anyone had a right to question McCain's military service, Clark did. A good journalist would have mentioned that.

    In fact, a good journalist would have quoted McCain from an interview on NPR on May 1, 2004, when he said, “some of our greatest presidents have not [had military experience]. … And all of them turned out to be fine commanders in chief.”

    (Cross-posted at Blogging for Michigan.)


    abi said...

    I have to admit that when I first heard Clark's statement, I was a little surprised. But actually, it was a very reasonable response to the context. Schieffer and Clark were talking about executive and military command experience, and Schieffer added that Obama had never ridden in a fighter plane and got shot down. The comment really made no sense in that context, but I think Clark provided the only response that was reasonable.

    I think too many 'journalists' have no interest in seeing a story like this treated fairly. It's more a matter of keeping the controversy going, to sell as much advertising as possible.

    Kathy said...

    Abi, I realize advertising keeps papers in business, but electing the people responsible for running our country should not be lumped in with sex scandals, divorces, etc.

    Besides, I'm getting too old to fact check everything I read! Maybe they're counting on that, eh?