The Reasonable Reporter 12-03-07
Back in the early days of the world wide web, the Reasonable Reporter had a boss, who, reluctant to spend money developing a website, decided instead to get internet presence by sponsoring another company’s site. When the deal was made, he suggested we jump in a cab, go over to the headquarters of the other company, and have a look at their site. We, the underlings, were simultaneously amused and horrified to imagine him on the phone, telling personnel at the other, hipper company, that we’d be over later, as soon as we traveled physically across town to view something we could have seen without leaving our desks.
It’s called “Unclear on the Concept.” Traditional media companies are the undefeated champs of Unclear on the Concept, and they prove it each time they try to co-opt the wild, wild web. Last week’s CNN YouTube debate was simply the latest example.
The first rule of online interaction is far older than YouTube. Online, nobody is who they say they say they are. If you aren’t skeptical of the other guy’s identity, then whatever you do, avoid online sexual flirtations, and don’t produce a presidential debate using questions from an online source. That way you won’t find yourself on a date with a rapist or a cop, and you won’t end up posing questions from Democratic campaign operatives to Republican presidential candidates.
One would think CNN hires only producers with the good sense and professionalism to vet “ordinary” people who want the news organization to facilitate their formal questioning of presidential candidates. Apparently, the standard rules of journalism don’t apply at CNN. At least not when they’re in breathless pursuit of the coolness conferred by the internet.
Another rule of online interaction — no matter what you use it for, the internet is only a technologically advanced way of accomplishing long-established communication goals. Most of the time, the rules of engagement aren’t significantly different than they always have been.
The debate producers were also Unclear on the Concept when it comes to Republicans, and it’s interesting to contemplate whether their unfortunate interpretation of Republican interests was more pronounced because the questions came from “real people” rather than from reporters. Can you imagine questioning Democratic candidates about whether or not they hug trees? Yet CNN producers allowed a question about whether the Republican candidates believe every word of the Bible.
It’s hard to imagine reporters asking such a question, and of course, this was the point. Real people ask questions reporters don’t ask. What’s notable is that the producers either thought it was a reasonable question to ask Republicans, or thought the questioner was reasonably representative of Republican voters.
Republicans are concerned about immigration and taxes, but CNN pushed the more extreme edges of those topics. Expressing disdain for sanctuary cities, and a query about whether candidates would veto amnesty bills shortchanged the immigration discussion. In doing so, CNN ignored a wide swath of Wall Street Journal Republicans who view liberal immigration policy as necessary to preserve economic health in a country whose next generation isn’t large enough to support its future social security recipients.
In a similar nod to the extreme, CNN chose a video from tax-restraint celebrity Grover Norquist, who asked whether the candidates would sign a no-new-taxes pledge, rather than feature a more reasonable question about a pressing tax matter currently in congress. Do the candidates believe the Alternative Minimum Tax should be repealed, or replaced? If replaced, then replaced by what? Of CNN’s 5,000 YouTube submissions, was there not a single questions about the AMT?
Should pregnant women who get an abortion be prosecuted? (Did the Reasonable Reporter imagine this question?) What does the Confederate flag mean to you? Have you stopped beating your wife?
And why are they obsessed with including this week’s version of “boxers or briefs?” Not “Diamonds or pearls” this time, but “Yankees or Red Sox?”
Finally, there is nothing new about featuring questions to politicians from real people. Talk radio has been doing it for decades. Before that, the real people stood in a semi-circle while the politicians stood on stumps. Hence the term…