By Lee White
I saw that bumper sticker the other day — the one that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” That thing has been around since the Reagan Administration. The first time I saw it, I was a young reporter doing afternoon traffic reports in Wichita. There it was on a dumpy little clunker driven by an older woman near Central and Ridge. The recent encounter made me swear time travel was possible.
After watching bits and pieces of ABC’s Election Night coverage, it is understandable why Republicans believe the media is biased toward Democrats. The commentators seemed positively incredulous at the notion that anyone had voted for Donald Trump — let alone that he was beating Hillary Clinton. She was clearly smarter, better organized, better qualified and all the cool people were voting for her. Except some of them didn’t. A lot of them didn’t. The media came face to face with the reality that their grip on the nation’s collective psyche is slipping away and they weren’t taking it well.
The media probably are biased toward liberals, but they are also biased toward incumbent politicians and the bureaucrats they hire or appoint. Reporters love the status quo and one needn’t venture far from Butler County to prove that assertion. Never in my 51 years have I encountered so many journalists so positively enamored with “the way things are” than I have in the Wichita metropolitan area.
All reporters, to some extent, are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertisers feed them money. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of car dealers. Public officials feed them information. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of, well, anything.
Reporters have become so afraid that politicians and especially cops will cut off easy access to routine stories and sound bites that they won’t risk running any coverage that might embarrass sources even if the public good demands otherwise.
Time and again during the nearly six months this blog has been in existence, I’ve broken stories that needed to be told. Examples:
- The whistleblower lawsuit against Flinthills services and the retaliation I faced as a result of reporting on it,
- A dispute between the Augusta Department of Public Safety director and Rose Hill officials,
- The fact that the EMS director lives almost as far away from Butler County as I do,
- The real reason an Augusta cop left the department and the fact that he continued to work for the chief’s private business long after,
- Turnover in the EMS and sheriff’s departments, and
- Questionable donations to Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign.
The only story the mainstream media covered at all was turnover at the sheriff’s department and only after it became the central issue in the campaign. Even when there was little left for reporters to do but make a few phone calls and use this blog as political “cover” for running a story, they wouldn’t pull the trigger.
Granted, I started this blog as a way to help a friend, Walker Andrews, get elected sheriff. I’ve never lied about that or tried to hide it. I also involve myself in stories and offer opinions in ways mainstream journalists wouldn’t. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not and that I never really wanted to be in the first place.
I wouldn’t have a problem with the mainstream media being “liberal,” “conservative,” or refusing to do stories because they don’t want to offend a source or an advertiser. But, for the love of God, don’t pretend to be an unbiased source of information or an occupier of the moral high ground.
You’re not on my side. You don’t have my back. And the only thing anyone should expect more of is the same. And don’t think I’m picking on TV stations. It’s just that most newspapers don’t have catchy slogans. What some papers do have that broadcast outlets usually don’t is people who are capable of investigative reporting and in-depth writing. Unfortunately, they also have editors and publishers who won’t allow those people to use their skills to hold the powerful accountable.
If traditional media are going to abandon their, uh, watchdog role — and sources and advertisers are going to utilize the stick and carrot to make sure they do — something will fill the void. People, corporations, and even government agencies will tell their own stories via social media. Rogue reporters will start blogs. Special interest group “think tanks” such as the Kansas Policy Institute will similarly circumvent the media. Before you know it, there is no more “bubble headed bleach blonde who comes on at five.”
Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme. I mean, how relevant could she be in an age when news breaks at the speed of light on cyber platforms that didn’t even exist until the second Bush Administration? By the time five o’clock rolls around, everybody already knows what’s going to be in tomorrow’s newspaper if the presses even run the next day. And the news comes on at 4 p.m. because the stations that carried Oprah have never found a suitable syndicated replacement.
So hate the lamestream media if you will, but do so for the right reason. Loathe them not for the information they bring you but for that which they do not.
Better still, instead of hating the media — even if the media you hate is me — BECOME the media. Develop a following. Learn how to dig up facts. Write or speak or photograph or shoot video of what you believe isn’t getting enough coverage. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Sounds trite, but be the change you want to see in the world.
That’s what we’re doing with Watchdog. I thank you for being part of our growing audience.