It’s pledge week at Minnesota Public Radio, a time when often they’ll re-run snippets of recent great programming in between shameless begging for money. This morning Kerri Miller’s intellectually chewy daily talkfest Midmorning featured live guests in the first hour, but the second hour featured a kind of virtual sparring between media heavyweights on the topic of advocacy journalism.
Miller aired encore excerpts of her live reporting from this year’s Democratic National Convention in which she asked two of her interviewees, Jim Lehrer and Tom Brokaw, about their views on media personalities who venture beyond news into unabashed commentary. Lehrer thought that delivery of a point of view mixed in with the content was something of a dying fad, commanding a smaller slice of audience than PBS does. Brokaw, on the other hand, took what he called the “Tom Paine” perspective, and argued that there’s room for both straight news and opinion-laced commentary. He believes that the audience can easily tell which one is which; he said they know what they’re going to get when they turn on Chris Matthews or Keith Olbermann just as easily as they can distinguish between the news sections and the op-ed features in their daily newspaper.
I’m with Brokaw on this one. Case in point – a piece reported by CCH HR Management that cried out for Olbermann-style treatment. Its author, without any pretense of analysis, basically cribbed the work-related policies right off the Obama and McCain websites, without even bothering to unslant the original language. That lent the piece a somewhat surreal effect, whipsawing from invocations of “worker’s rights” and “a living wage” in one half to an almost mantra-like repetition of the word “competitive” in the other. And then it just … quit. Informative as far as it goes – I was glad to see it – but in its “on the one hand, on the other hand” fashion, it treated the two sets of policies as just two different but equally substantive platforms. “No spin,” said the lead paragraph, “– we’ll leave that to the pundits.”
Fortunately, there are pundits who are glad to oblige.
BlogHer Political Director Morra Aarons-Mele had this great post on Huffington Post last week. She listened in on the Families and Work Institute conference call with representatives from the Obama and McCain campaigns talking about the candidates’ work-life policies. Aarons-Mele gave examples straight from the transcript of the call, including Obama initiatives on:
- early childhood education
- expanding the FMLA to cover more people and provide paid leave
- equal pay and protections against family responsibilities discrimination
- pegging the minimum wage to inflation and expanding the EITC
- paid sick leave
- promoting telecommuting
- enacting a “right to request” flexible work along the lines of the UK’s law
She also described the McCain camp’s much vaguer proposals (e.g., forming a “commission” on “workplace flexibility and choice”), and then she added her analysis, which I thought was spot-on:
In sum, reading the call transcripts I’m left with the same questions I usually am about our candidates. McCain, the fake supporter of the middle class, says he supports the issues most important to families but I don’t see it in his team’s answers. Obama has fantastic ideas for work and family in this country; the main question is whether the bankrupt government he would inherit, and its accompanying politics, can accomplish such goals.
There’s more to Aarons-Mele’s analysis, and I recommend it. In my opinion, doing what CCH did – offering “on the one hand, on the other” without any weighing of whether the proposals are substantive or just puffery – is itself spin, because it creates a false equivalence between proposals that are genuinely innovative and useful and those that are just the same old talking points we’ve heard before.