Enough Political Cowardice


The days of politicians answering tough questions are waning. Ahead of this November’s elections, candidates duck, dodge and slip away more than ever when the media comes calling.

From Tea Party starlet Sharron Angle’s demand that she only be asked the questions she wants to answer, to Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk’s bolting out the back door to avoid reporters, it’s safe to say that cowardice is now an acceptable campaign strategy. (Despicable as that may be, at least they don’t threaten to “take out” reporters the way New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino did.)

In Texas, political escape and evasion has become de rigueur. Gov. Rick Perry’s refusal to face editorial boards, or even his opponent in a debate, is but one regrettable example.

Press conferences have been scarce, and campaign staffers frequently deny reporters access to events. Spokespeople play multiple rounds of phone tag until the reporter either has to give up or is forced to take more direct measures. To avoid the people’s watchdogs, campaigners hand out generic phone numbers and e-mail addresses that are answered by interns with no authority to say or do anything. Pretty slick, guys.

Instead, the new generation of politicians direct campaigns exclusively to their die-hard voters through social media, blogs, and select cable network appearances. The more rabid the voters, the more rabid their election-day turnout. The candidates are now picking their voters, rather than the other way around.

Conservative candidates like to argue that journalists are biased, part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to overthrow American values. They argue that thanks to the Internet and social media, voters have unfettered access to the marketplace of ideas. The news industry, as purveyors of information, has become passé.

On the contrary, citizens need trained reporters more than ever to sort fact from propaganda and truth from spin. They need well-informed journalists to ask the hard questions on their behalf.

The founders of this country, whom conservatives enjoy quoting so much, knew that an aggressive, diverse, skeptical and at times irreverent media is the best defense against demagoguery. That is why freedom of the press comes before the freedom to bear arms, and that is why journalists are the only non-governmental profession with rights spelled out in the Constitution.

So what are journalists to do when the powerful try to act with impunity? Simply put, kick more ass and take more names. And that’s exactly what we intend to do.