It’s the politician’s favorite fallback when things get difficult: blame the media, especially the “liberal media,” for the foibles plaguing their campaign or tenure in office.
We in the news business often end up being the punching bags for people who don’t have the self-awareness, intellectual honesty or common decency to recognize (and admit) their own shortcomings, missteps or craven hypocrisy. That goes for politicians from both parties — hating, baiting and castigating the media are bipartisan, equal-opportunity strategies. It doesn’t cost anything to beat on the media and may win points in the opinion polls, as Democrats and Republicans alike learned a long time ago. We are the easiest targets in the world, and any of us who have lasted very long in this business have the scars to prove it.
Most of the time I shrug it off. It’s the same-old, same-old from people who don’t have the imagination or intelligence to come up with something else. But once in a while my tolerance is tested, as happened recently.
A few crybabies touting themselves as Republican presidential contenders have their nappies in bunches because they didn’t like some of the questions they were asked during the most recent candidates’ “debate” (anyone who appreciates what debate is really about will understand the quotation marks). The Republican National Committee (RNC) has chimed in with its own weepy complaints about how tough it was for these would-be commanders in chief to deal with the debate’s tone and format.
Oh, poor, poor pitiful them. Doesn’t your heart just break for these offended intellects, rendered all indignant and pouty by a few inquiries that required them to be, um, at least responsive in a more grown-up manner, or to answer truthfully?
Let’s posit that some of the questions posed by the CNBC panelists were strange, awkward or seemingly off-point. It wasn’t broadcast journalism’s finest hour. So what? Criticize CNBC for a cheesy, cringe-worthy performance all you want — they probably deserve it. The moderators forgot that they were not the show. The truly troubling thing is that several of the candidates (not all of them) sank to the same cheesy level of engagement and then moped about how ill-treated they were. Geez, get me a hankie. Or maybe a barf bag.
Now the RNC, and some candidates, seem intent on defining future debates in a way that doesn’t bother any of the sensitive psyches. They want to punish the media for what they see as misbehaving. Do they want questions spoon-fed to them as if they were in highchairs? Maybe they should wear bibs in case they spit up again.
Here’s what’s scary: These are people claiming provenance to become the leader of the free world. “Wah, wah, wah” may evoke sympathy and resonate with people who already don’t trust the media, but it isn’t going to work on the international stage.
Other people have noticed. “And then it turns out they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators,” President Obama joked in an appearance last week. “If you can’t handle those guys, I don’t think the Chinese and the Russians are going to be too worried about you.”
Donald Trump, who plays the love-hate game with the media brilliantly, likes to dismiss anyone who disagrees with him or points out his inconsistencies as “losers.” After watching politics for 40 years as a journalism professional, I can tell you this from experience: Losers blame the media and sniffle about unfairness. Winners are rarely whiners.
The smart thing for the RNC to do, rather than scheme to control and limit the debates, would be to just say “bring it on” to whatever organization is staging the event and let the candidates demonstrate their ability to adapt quickly and appropriately to whatever comes their way.
Isn’t that what the job requires, after all? Shouldn’t we see if they’re up to it?