Kurtz: Conservative Candidates Consider Basic Journalism (Like Maddow?) an 'Affront'

In his Monday Media Notes column today, Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz lays out the latest liberal complaint against Tea party candidates, that they don't submit to more drubbing like Rachel Maddow gave Rand Paul, and somehow they have no respect for journalism:

Some of the most conservative and combative Republicans running for Congress are convinced that the media have it in for them.

But these candidates seem to regard it as an affront when reporters challenge them on their past statements and inconsistencies, which is a basic function of journalism. They are avoiding or limiting interviews with all but the friendliest faces as a way of circumventing the press. And some of them delight in skewering the mainstream media, a tactic that plays well with their base.

The headline in the paper was “Softball questioners only, please.” Kurtz didn't think it might sound a little like Barack Obama in 2007, bathing in supportive media interviews as he whacked away at Sean Hannity? Was Obama contemptuous of the “basic functions” of journalism? Or were the journalists just too entranced to ask anything but softball questions?

Kurtz used as an example Sharron Angle, who has limited her national-media interviews to sympathetic outlets:

Since her primary victory in Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle has spoken mainly with Fox News, sympathetic radio hosts, columnist George Will, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and, in an online video, Christian activist Ralph Reed. Angle told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody last week that she's not "running from the media," but that "the whole point of an interview is to use it, like they say 'earned media,' to earn something with it, and I'm not going to earn anything from people who are there to badger me and use my words to batter me with....Will they let me say I need $25 from a million people, go to SharronAngle.com, send money?"

Another Republican, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, told tea party activists they have to "control the message" -- through advertising -- to combat efforts "to paint us as something we're not," because "we're not going to get a lot of help from the newspapers." Both seem to think the media's primary role should be to help them -- raise money, carry a message -- rather than hold them accountable.

Inside the paper, the headline to Kurtz's column was “Some on the right gamble with strategy of avoiding the press.” It's a little hard to argue that a Senate candidate in Nevada or Kentucky must bow before the liberal media elite in New York or Washington as part of their campaign. Kurtz's conceit here does not consider that Democratic Senate candidates – from Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois to Kendrick Meek in Florida – aren't exactly running in the national media and being “held accountable.”

(He also doesn't consider that broadcast networks in the last decade have aired next to nothing about individual House or Senate candidates until just days before the election, even in midterms. So who's not interested in accountability?)

Of course, any candidate for public office should expect to be pressed on their policies, campaign ads, public statements, and behavior. But any candidate also has the right to choose which interviews to do, based on the idea of winning their campaign.

Kurtz should acknowledge that a lot of journalists aren't interested in "basic journalism," but in ruining a candidate's reputation for honesty and probity. If Kurtz wants to believe that Rachel Maddow was interested only in “accountability,” and not in liberal victory in Kentucky during her Rand Paul interview, he should try trotting that wacky line out.

Kurtz is channeling the view of liberal bloggers and journalists who want to suggest that the Angles and the Pauls are extremists who merely need a bucket of national-media water to melt them like the Wicked Witch of the West.

Kurtz does quote conservative Kevin Williamson of National Review saying Paul is “understandably a little media-shy now” after he “blew that Rachel Maddow interview, big time.” He also quoted former McCain-Palin adviser Nicolle Wallace suggesting “They're probably right the media haven't figured out how to cover the tea party movement with objectivity and fairness.” Wallace said these candidates should engage their local media.

But Wallace is also the one who thought Sarah Palin should really submit herself to an elongated interview with Katie Couric, who wasn't interested in just “holding Palin accountable,” but in asking gotcha questions and trying to embarrass her and defeat her.

If Kurtz really thinks public figures want “softball questioners only, please,” he should turn the subject back on himself and wonder why he only gains access to the Katie Courics of the world with softball profiles. When Katie Couric offers herself for a 30-minute interview with Sarah Palin so she can be “held accountable” for the “basic journalism” at CBS, then maybe the question of who's afraid of the hardballs will be settled.

PS: Watch a liberal say “Sarah Palin isn't a journalist, she's a politician.” But many journalists sound more like politicians instead of journalists when they start crusading. (See the Obama campaign in 2007 all over again.)

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis