POWELL: Politics gets more corrupt and takes journalism along

Published on Monday, 2 November 2020 19:51
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For four years any disparaging story about President Trump has been touted by national news organizations even if its source was anonymous. Of course given his business record and character it is easy to believe almost any disparagement about Trump, but before his election news organizations had begun to move away from anonymous sources for disparagement because they are unfair to both their targets and their audience. With Trump news organizations suspended their ethics.

Now a scandal is simmering about the president's Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden - his helping his dissolute son, Hunter, trade on his father's position. But most news organizations won't report it. Their supposed doubt about part of the story - the incriminating material found on a laptop computer thought to have been owned by Hunter - is just a dodge.

For several people openly confirm the authenticity of some of the material, and more journalism easily could prove or disprove this. In any case it is agreed that the vice president took his son on official trips to Ukraine and China, soon after which Hunter went into lucrative business deals with rich Ukrainians and Chinese. There is evidence that some income was to be reserved for the vice president.

Additionally, a recent report by Real Clear Investigations asserted that nearly every job Hunter has had arose from the official influence of his father - that Hunter was hired and lavishly paid to curry favor with the government. That report also easily could be confirmed or refuted by more journalism.

A rationale offered for not investigating the Biden scandal is that it does not come close to Trump's own corruption. Maybe, but so what? Why not let voters decide for themselves? The real reason there is so little investigation of the Bidens is simply politics. From their one-sided coverage it's clear that most news organizations now feel that their highest calling is not impartial journalism but ousting the president.

Of course news organizations have the constitutional right to act from that belief. But anyone aspiring to be an informed citizen needs to understand that journalism is often politics by other means, because the selection of every significant news story is a political act. Even journalists trying to be fair inevitably view the news through their own politics, at least in the broadest sense.

There is nothing new in this. This country's newspapers originated in partisanship as frankly party organs. Over time they shed their most brazen partisanship but partisanship still often guides them, though only the most sophisticated readers may discern it.

Connecticut provides examples.

U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., nominally a Republican, was a longtime favorite of the Hartford Courant because he often criticized members of his own party. In 1988 Weicker was challenged for re-election by state Attorney General Joseph I. Lieberman, a Democrat. So the Courant published a series of stories about contributions Lieberman's campaign had received from lawyers whose clients had cases involving the attorney general's office. This raised a fair issue of influence buying, even as such issues are common to most major political campaigns.

Meanwhile in Washington Weicker had been taking "honorariums" - extravagant speaking fees - from interest groups seeking to enact or defeat legislation on which the senator would be voting. These "honorariums" were not mere campaign contributions; they were personal cash payments, attempts at bribery, and eventually were forbidden by Senate rules. Yet during the campaign the Courant never reported Weicker's trafficking in "honorariums."

In 2003 the Journal Inquirer began reporting in depth about the corruption of Gov. John G. Rowland. But the Courant loved the governor for the grandiose "Adriaen's Landing" redevelopment project he had arranged for downtown Hartford a few blocks from the newspaper's headquarters, so the Courant declined to cover the story. The governor even went on radio to declare that the Courant's lack of coverage disproved the JI's reporting. Only when other newspapers began reprinting the JI's work did the Courant join in - and eventually the Courant even claimed credit for the resignation of the governor it had been covering up for.

Politics today is more corrupt and venal than ever. Unfortunately the public's primary defense against it, journalism, is too.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Monday, 2 November 2020 19:51. Updated: Monday, 2 November 2020 19:53.