PRINCIPLES AND SELECTIVE MEDIA OUTRAGE

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2019 ON A DIFFERENT SITE. IT IS REPUBLISHED HERE FOR ARCHIVING PURPOSES.

On May 10, San Francisco police raided the home of a freelance journalist who had provided information to several local TV stations regarding the death of an area public defender. The journalist, Brian Carmody, apparently had obtained and distributed a copy of the police report on the public defender’s death. Citing the need to identify the source of the leak within the police department, police officers raided Carmody’s home. Although they had a warrant, the raid still caused outrage among many (myself included) who saw this as an egregious violation of First Amendment protections vis a vis freedom of the press, to say nothing of a reporter’s right to protect his or her sources. 

Since then, the San Francisco Chronicle has done an outstanding job of covering this troubling incident. Anyone interested in reading their coverage can follow this link. That said, looking at this matter from my perspective outside the Bay Area, what struck me was the near dearth of coverage at the national level. Shamefully (and self-defeatingly), far too many of the national media dragged their heels noticeably on this story before begrudgingly (and minimally) acknowledging that this travesty even happened. Among the more flagrant examples were CNN, which has made a business model out of criticizing President Trump 24/7 for, among other things, his verbal abuse of the news media. Mind you, a great many of those criticisms of the president’s rhetoric concerning journalists are well founded. But where was the outrage from Brian Stelter, Chris Cuomo et al in this case where actual government force was misapplied to a journalist?

This incident provides legitimate fodder to those who argue that press outrage over government abuse is selective. Consider the media coverage and trends at the national level on this subject. 

  • Obama abuses of the press: Covered, but mostly “Meh. Oooh, btw, did you see him slow jam the news with Fallon?!?”
  • Police in Democrat-run San Francisco raid a reporters home and seize files: “New phone, who dis?”
  • Trump says mean things re press: “THE REPUBLIC IS FALLING!!!”

To be sure, the above analysis is exaggerated for effect…but not THAT exaggerated. If a local unit of ICE – a federal agency under the Trump administration – led the exact same raid on on the exact same journalist on the exact same day – does anyone want to suggest that the reaction from the national media would have been anywhere as muted as it was in this case?

If we want news media to be more trusted and held in higher esteem by the public – and we DO if we care about democracy – then journalists and media figures at the highest and most-visible levels (i.e., the national media, particularly broadcasters) need to stop being selectively outraged and cherry picking coverage like this. This is especially true regarding the way they report on government…and themselves. 

Ultimately, principles like freedom of the press are NOT principles if they are only applied when it’s convenient or supportive of one’s sociopolitical narrative.

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