Rick Perry: Is the press being fair and accurate in its coverage of him?

If Obama was too much loved by mainstream press, is Perry too much reviled?

August 21, 2011|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

I doubt this modest request will be heard over the fevered roar for the scalp of Texas Gov. Rick Perry that the media has been sounding since he announced his candidacy for president. There is almost a palpable bloodlust to bring this guy down -- and it is being sounded by parts of the mainstream press that should know better.

My modest proposal: Let's just try and be fair. Let's do a little self-ethnography from time to time and ask why we feel like it is open season on this guy and his campaign -- and it is OK to drop some of the usual standards of fairness in trying to bring him down.

Let's also think back to 2008 and reflect on the way we covered candidate Obama, and ask ourselves if we are treating Perry the same way we treated the senator from Illinois. Really, think about it -- and let's look in the mirror as we are doing so to see if we can hold our own gaze.

I am not defending Perry or some of the statements he made. But I have seen commentary after commentary on cable TV, network TV, in print, social media and on blogs talking about how he accused Fed chairman Ben Bernanke of treason.

What Perry actually said is this, "Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous -- or treasonous in my opinion.”

I think he's pushing the envelope of acceptable discourse, but he didn't accuse Bernanke of treason, and I have seen instance after instance in which commentators for mainstream media outlets have ignored the "almost" in Perry's statement. The ones at CNN have troubled me the most, because I have long believed CNN is our last, best hope for journalism on cable TV.

For example, here's Carol Costello, from CNN, on Facebook Aug. 16: Texas Gov. Rick Perry isn't backing down from comments he made in Iowa on Monday night when he said it would be "treasonous" for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to try to stimulate the economy by printing more money.

I also saw an over-the-top Costello piece on CNN last week in which she offered the definition of "treason" and then sarcastically critiqued Perry -- again ignoring the word "almost" in his statement.

I'll spare her the dictionary definition of "almost" and the sarcasm -- I'm trying to be fair in making my point. But maybe she and her editors are familiar with this expression: "Without precision of language there can be no morality." 

Ditto for all the analysts and pundits who stated categorically that Perry "questioned President Obama's patriotism." This is a two-fer. It encourages outrage against Perry and sympathy for Obama.

But, again, that is not what Perry said or did.

As I wrote last week:

I think someone who served in the military as Perry did (as a fighter pilot) has every right as a candidate to raise the issue of who made a bigger sacrifice to his country as a young person -- him or someone who chose college. He has an absolute right to do that and it gets at the hypocrisy of the Washington political and media class that urges people to serve their country as members of the military and then sends their own sons and daughters to elite colleges and universities instead of military service.

Putting his military service against Obama's lack of service isn't calling Obama unpatriotic as many in the press have characterized it, it is showing a clear difference: The person who goes into the military risks her or his life, while the young person who goes to a top college or university gets an education if they apply themselves that all but guarantees them a good economic life if nothing else.

He never questioned Obama's patriotism or called the president unpatriotic. But there is service, and then, there is service. He could have gotten killed in the service he gave to his country -- not true for a student at, say, Harvard. 

But in a Washington culture that features almost everyone gratuitously thanking everyone else for their "service," such distinctions are seldom made. That's where a little self-ethnography by members of the Washington press corps might lead to more balanced coverage.

Having worked as columnist for four years at the late, great Dallas Times Herald, a paper considered way to the left by the conservative Texans, I can tell you members of that culture don't think anyone in Washington is providing any kind of "service" to the nation.

I'll not even revisit the outrageous editing and charge of racism leveled against Perry by MSNBC and Ed Schultz last week for the Texas governor's "big black cloud" statement. And don't tell me it's water under the bridge and everything is now fine-fine, because Schultz apologized. That's what Schultz always does: Says reprehensible stuff and then apologizes for saying it. If someone had done Obama the way MSNBC and Schultz tried to do Perry, the press would be screaming for the heads of the offending parties.

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