Somehow, this story got lost in cyberspace after I posted it last September. But the critique stands:
Here we are, less than eight critical weeks before Election Day, and the Story of the Week is that Hillary Clinton did not hold a press conference last Friday to announce that she had been diagnosed with pneumonia. Really?! Given the state of the world the next President must address, this is what commands the airwaves and the op-ed columns?
Reporters are falling all over themselves to embellish the sinister narrative so brilliantly constructed by Karl Rove, et. al., that despite a commendable record of very public service, Hillary is untrustworthy, that she has something to hide, that she is too private. They use the stock story like stock photos, a lazy habit, and a dangerous one. In this case, a sexist one, too. After all, most women don’t broadcast every ache and pain, every sniffle; most of us had no choice but to “power through” our colds and flus and walking pneumonias to take care of our families and/or to keep our jobs. And at our age now, Hillary’s and mine, we simply don’t want to waste time talking about our doctors’ appointments when there are so many other more important and more interesting topics and issues to discuss. Especially in this election. Still, journalists chose to voice their pique that they didn’t get the memo about Hillary’s pneumonia; a healthy alternative would have been to voice respect for her commitment to the September 11 victims and heroes, no matter her diagnosis.
Donald Trump has made the election about Donald Trump. The media — CNN in particular with its oversized investment in election coverage — gave him a microphone over a year ago and let him do it. I watched their coverage one day from my perch on the elliptical trainer and thought their cameras were going to follow him into the bathroom, so intimate was their obsession. And then, operating from some not merely false, but perverted sense of equivalency — again, lazy he-said-she-said journalism — the media (albeit assisted by several very savvy political operatives) decided to make the election about Hillary Clinton, too. Not Hillary Clinton’s politics or policies, not her ideals and ideas, not her record of service at the highest echelons of government, but about a caricature of the candidate they have created. The pollsters went crazy, too: Is she trustworthy? Likable? Geesh. Why not ask if voters find her competent, intelligent, psychologically stable? Or better yet, do they agree with her policies, her philosophy of governing, the causes she champions, her approach to world affairs? Again, while some polls were more nuanced, the headlines and the graphics all trumpeted (and I use that word advisedly) personality over meaningful politics.
So-called journalists have done this country, our democracy, and all American voters a tremendous disservice covering this very important election as a mere clash of personalities. It is a lost opportunity for Americans to engage the nation’s challenges constructively — to address gun violence, climate change, the war-torn Middle East, energy resources, the economy, income inequality, tax reform, our social, economic, health and cultural security, our military and, say, immigration — even if we’re coming at them from a multitude of different directions. How can the electorate make informed choices when the information that matters is overshadowed by the detritus of the news media’s deeply flawed campaign narrative? Hillary’s appropriately personal choice to keep a perfectly understandable, non-life-threatening illness private isn’t news, or it shouldn’t be. It certainly doesn’t warrant the analysis and commentary it has received, except perhaps, just maybe, insofar as it reflects one of her values: privacy and healthy personal boundaries. Not all bad. In comparison, should Donald Trump’s personal choices re: women, Mexican immigrants, Muslims, his campaign staff, business associates, incendiary words, people he admires (Putin?), waterboarding, guns — you name it — undergo the same scrutiny and analysis, it would seem to me they, too, might reflect some of his core values— morally repugnant ones at that.
In the meantime, as a journalist, I find the news media’s abysmal election year performance is making me sick. But as a woman, don’t worry, I will power through to vote my conscience and my values. And, once we all recover, I hope the news media carefully – and transparently -- examines its failings and prescribes the remedies necessary to restore health to our essential, but obviously frail fourth estate.