Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cain and the Ugly Truth


Recent news reports that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain allegedly harassed two women has caused Cain, who is black, to claim that he is the subject of racial discrimination and that the “liberal” media has united to destroy a viable candidate.

Both claims are complete nonsense.

For starters, whether Cain is African-American or not does not matter.  He’s a candidate.  He’s running for the presidential nomination of a major party.  Everything about him will be and should be scrutinized by the media.  That’s true for every candidate.  For example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s association with a controversial minister has not been ignored.  That was equally true three years ago for now-President Barack Obama and his 2008 Republican challenger Sen. John McCain.

Sen. Gary Hart (D-Col) learned that to his embarrassment in 1988 when his presidential campaign foundered on claims of sexual infidelity.  The investigation into Hart was led by the Washington Post, a so-called liberal newspaper.

Nor will Cain’s comments be overlooked.  Controversial quotes attributed to former Gov. Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann, both of whom are white and considered possible Republican nominees, have earned equal scrutiny.  Perry is now defending charges that he was impaired while giving a recent speech in New Hampshire.

People like to hear and read about the peccadilloes of the rich and famous.  Cain is no different.

Besides, Obama was elected, and he is African-American.  How racist can this country be?

Sure, a percentage of people voted for Obama because he was black.  That was balanced by a percentage who voted against him for the same reason.  Most people, however, judged Obama compared to his opponent on issues they considered for more important than race and chose him. 

Charging racism is the last, desperate act of a candidate unable to face up to the questions based on the facts, not his skin color.

The liberal press claim is even more absurd.  That canard has a long history and is completely false.  In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt insisted the press was "about 200 percent Republican." In the 1950s, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson complained about a Republican "one-party press."

Bill Clinton certainly missed the liberal bias during his two terms in office.

These days, the issue is raised constantly by conservatives and could not be further from the truth.  And they know it:  Prominent conservative columnist William Krystal founder and editor of the Weekly Standard political magazine and a regular Fox News Channel commentator, made that clear in a recent CNN interview.

 “The press isn't quite as biased and liberal. They're actually conservative sometimes,” he said, backing up his earlier published comment that “the whole idea of the ‘liberal media’ was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures.”

In fact, an estimated 90 percent of newspapers regularly endorse conservative candidates.

Is Rubert Murdoch, who owns more media outlets than anyone, conservative?  Hardly.  He owns Fox News, a bastion of conservative programming.  That’s true for owners of most major media outlets.  They are wealthy and tend consistently to lean toward the conservative side of issues.

Their opinions actually have little effect on news coverage, something I saw firsthand.  I spent years as a reporter: five years with the very conservative New Haven Register; five years with the liberal Daytona Beach News-Journal. As a college student, I wrote stories for the New York Times and had stories published in other newspapers and magazines.  I wrote thousands of articles on multiple topics.  At no time was I ever told to rewrite a story to give it either a liberal or conservative slant.  I was never assigned a story based on such attitudes nor was a written story changed to conform to such views.

In print media, opinion and news contents were kept strictly separated, as are advertising and news.

The few liberal papers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, may gleefully cover news that damages conservative leaders, such as Cain, but they hardly reserve their coverage to one side or the other.  That would be impossible in a world where print media is ubiquitous.  One outlet slanting the news would be quickly exposed by another providing more balanced coverage. 

That’s not as true with electronic media, where multiple commentators have shows.  They obviously can be liberal or conservative.  However, news programming strives to be impartial.  Not all of them succeed as well as we may like.

What exposes liberal or conservative viewpoints isn’t the actual reporting, but the placement of the story – an anti-liberal report likely would get more exposure in the conservative media – but that doesn’t change the facts.

For example, I can recall seeing bias in headlines: when a liberal Ohio senator released his tax returns, both Cleveland newspapers covered the story:  The liberal Cleveland Press reported that Howard Metzenbaum released his tax forms.  The conservative Cleveland Plain Dealer reported “Metzenbaum paid no taxes in 1969.”  However, the accounts were virtually the same, and placement of the stories on the page was similar.

Besides, inconsistent reports do not “expose” a bias.  Reporters try to cover an event.  Their choice of words can be analyzed to death, but as with Shakespeare, the words are chosen to fit the need, not because they expose some hidden “liberal” agenda.

In truth, Cain has no argument.  He was involved in harassment suits.  The two women received settlements.  That’s fact.  That’s what has been reported by media of all political persuasion.

His yelps are simple efforts to camouflage a far more sinister effort. 

He wants to prevent media from doing its watchdog job of reporting negative news.  No reporter wants to be accused of racism.  No medium wants to be attacked for supposedly slanting the news.

Like many candidates before him confronted with an ugly truth, Cain wants to muzzle the messenger.

That’s not a liberal or conservative issue.  Cain’s efforts should be treated with the scorn they deserve by everyone regardless of political persuasion.

This country was founded on several important principles: freedom of speech and freedom the press.  No presidential candidate – regardless of race or political ideals – deserves support while trying to stifle those basic elements of American life.

Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion, religious history and current topics.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at www.williamplazarus.com.  His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  Many of his essays are posted at www.williamplazarus.blogspot.com.



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