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July 28, 2008 1:30 AM

Obama's press

Posted by Lynne Varner

Journalists have a dirty little secret: we aren't the snarling pack of watchdogs the First Amendment gave us permission to be. We're actually a genial bunch, prone to joking with power brokers, asking after their little ones and enjoying the rush of self-importance when they ask after ours.

Framed this way, journalism's love affair with Sen. Barack Obama - the kind that stills pens and makes hearts flutter even as internal voices mutter, 'snap out of it!' is understandable, yet worrisome.

Eric Devericks/The Seattle Times

The Democratic presidential nominee chose to bestow his first public appearance since touring Europe and the Middle East on 6,000 journalists in Chicago for the 2008 Unity: Journalists of Color conference. The standing ovations at the beginning and end were to be expected. Gratitude toward heads of state willing to show up before journalists ready to repeat their every word and gaffe is immense. But the applause and beatification went on a bit much. Some in the audience were so rabidly in the Illinois senator's corner that they applauded like seals evens as Obama turned abrupt or defensive against questions he didn't like.

Here is the golden rule of journalism: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. When Obama moves seamlessly from a phased withdrawal in Iraq to shoring up Afghanistan and still having enough energy and money left over to fix our nation's public schools, vet that plan asap. There will be time for ethnic, civic and personal pride after we finish doing what the public expects of the Fourth Estate. This isn't a double standard. It is the only standard.

The public must be able to trust that we've fully vetted Obama, Sen. John McCain and everyone else. We all have personal beliefs and biases but if we're too busy swooning as political leaders lay out a vision we like, we won't remember to hammer them on the nuts and bolts or inform the public when a vision is out of step with reality. Anyone remember how the national press laid down for President Bush after 9-11? Generations after us will be trying to get back the civil rights we allowed the Bush Administration to take away.

Truth is power. Our job is to empower citizens by giving them the whole truth. Not the parts we managed to hear amid the applause.

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Posted by Kented

7:41 PM, Jul 28, 2008

NOW you figure that out?

Posted by concerned

7:01 AM, Jul 29, 2008

Really glad to see this article today!

Posted by Dave

11:42 AM, Jul 29, 2008

It's really hard to stay objective. In fact, I'd say it's impossible for anyone, not just journalists.
Having some subjectivity doesn't hurt journalists credibility. Lying about it does. Admit bias, misgivings, etc. and try to report honestly despite that.
And readers also need to not dismiss a journalist's writings because of their bias, but to seek out different opinions and weigh them all thoughtfully.

I admire the journalist who admits personal beliefs and still attempts to provide balanced reporting.

Posted by John Bailo

9:44 AM, Jul 31, 2008

You define journalism as people who pander to power brokers and superstars and print whatever they tell you, but isn't that the job of public relations ? Perhaps your high school guidance counselor mixed up the brochures...

Posted by Lynne Varner

10:16 AM, Jul 31, 2008

In many universities and colleges public relations is a part of the Communications Department which also houses schools of Journalism. Many pr professionals are former journalists.

But what journalists do is far from pr. Read your newspaper or listen to the news and ask if what you hear sounds like a press release. Companies like Starbucks and presidents like the current one in the White House would love it if journalists acted as pr reps.

The point of my blog entry is that journalists are humans and like most people, we often shy away from being antagonistic or critical of people we're in close contact with.

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