UW Professor Says McCain Campaign Presents a Crisis for Journalism

Over at the Daily Kos, University of Washington communication professor David Domke issues a bold call to news organizations. Warning that the McCain-Palin campaign represents a "crisis for mainstream journalists," Domke urges news organizations to not back down from vetting the claims and accusations of the GOP message machine.

In drawing parallels to the build up to the decision to go to war in Iraq, Domke writes:

For weeks McCain and surrogates have said things that have been declared false across the political spectrum (even Karl Rove made this point, on Fox News, on Sunday). In just the days since McCain added Sarah Palin to the GOP ticket, the McCain and Palin campaign have said she opposed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska. She didn't, and still has the money. Republicans said Palin opposed Congressional earmarks. Actually, she requested $200 million this year alone. McCain said Obama supported sex education for kindergartners. In reality, Obama voted to make sex-ed teaching age-appropriate, and tightened the standards on it. McCain and Palin said that Palin visited Iraq in an overseas trip. She didn't.

In response, the news media have begun to cover these false claims. The Associated Press, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the TV networks have all produced coverage that lays bare the facts, as best they see it. So far, so good for citizens hoping to be informed.

In response, though, the McCain campaign has made clear that they have no plans to change their claims, or more generally their approach. Campaign spokesman Brian Rogers told Politico.com on Friday, "We recognize it's not going to be 2000 again," when McCain wooed and wowed the press with his "Straight Talk Express" campaign. "But he lost then. We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it."

In other words, a journalism of verification means zip to the McCain camp. This raises a defining dilemma for journalists: if you lay out the facts and the politician doesn't care or change, what's your next act? Are you prepared to call the politician out in a direct way, ala pundits? Are you prepared to do what the press did not do as a president moved the nation toward a war of choice? Or will U.S. news organizations throw up their hands and pass the buck, saying that they've done all that a journalism of objectivity allows?

Please, don't go there. Not again. The news media have a profound responsibility to state, unequivocally, what is true and what is not--and in a visible fashion. There are many ways to do this, here's just one suggestion: let's have a truth-o-meter on Page 1, every day, in which editorial boards speak with authority.

My view is not a partisan one; it's a democratic one. Whether it's Obama or McCain or whoever else making the claims, Americans need a strong, independent press that holds leaders accountable. I still believe in that kind of journalism. I know my students do. Are today's journalists willing to fight for it?

We need you.

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Journalism ended when Edward R Murrow retired.

The mainstream media have a responsibility to further the interests of the corporations that own them and to shill for the corporations who purchase their advertising. They have no responsibility to the public whatsoever. They are wholly owned by multinationals who respect no nations.

By Snarly Old Fart (not verified) on 15 Sep 2008 #permalink

You make the mistake of assuming the business of news media is ethical journalism, rather than simply getting ratings.
I wonder how far away we are from cable news channels that simply make everything up (OK Fox News is pretty close but even they occasionally base their stories on real life events).
If each channel is simply trying to outcompete the other networks then is it any wonder that the presidential race has turned into American Idol?

I agree that American journalism needs to step up and show some cojones for once, but ultimately, it comes down to the American people. Unethical sorts like the Rove Squad running McCain's campaign will keep pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable until the people stand up and say "Enough already!" And stop electing the bastards...

On Lehrer today there was an appearance by the chief political editor (or possibly correspondent) for USA Today, who said with a straight face that Palin had done very well in the Gibson interview. I was gobsmacked.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 15 Sep 2008 #permalink

IMO the conservatives have immunized themselves very effectively against the truth by painting the investigative media potentially providing analysis of such claims as biased liberals who are unpatriotic, are eroding bedrock family values, don't support the troops and so on. They have managed to sensitize all the emotional triggers that once pressed, rational thought about what it means is suppressed. I'll bet that if you walked into most coffee shops in middle America and asked people to list 10 words they would use to describe the investigative media, "biased" and "liberals" would be on an overwhelming majority of lists, along with a subset of terms indicating that they will not be paid much attention. I predict that the analyses won't gain traction and the people running McCain's campaign know that from their careful surveys. The campaign process simply no longer incorporates any accountability and this will continue until it does. This game needs a respected referee that has clout.

In terms of message location, I'm not sure making this plea on the Daily Kos is ideal. Perhaps Dr. Domke was turned down at MSM outlets first? It'd be nice to know.

It's also too bad that umbrella groups like the Association for Education and Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) do not step up like AAAS, AAPOR or the AMA and stake a firm position against activites that go against its core ethos. I'm not sure the world would see a group like the AEJMC as a perfect source but it would be better than forcing individual academics to go it alone.