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"Chastising the Media" Not a Wise Tactic for Presidents: Prof. Jeff McCall '76

February 9, 2013

"All presidents, of both parties, eventually tire of hearing critical news reports about their administrations," writes Jeff McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in the Indianapolis Star. "It can't be a surprise, then, that Barack Obama is part of the long chorus of presidents who have chastised the media."

In an op-ed column, Dr. McCall notes how presidents throughout history -- most famously Richard M. Nixon -- have complained of poor treatment from the press, as President Obama did in a recent New Republic interview. There, the professor states, "the president curiously expanded his press analysis by complaining that reporters are too objective in covering capitol gridlock. 'In fact, that's one of the biggest problems we've got in how folks report about Washington right now,' he said, 'because I think journalists rightly value the appearance of impartiality and objectivity.' "

According to McCall, "It is one thing for Obama to rip on Fox News and radio talkers, but his criticism of the media takes on a curious dimension when he says that objectivity is 'one of the biggest problems.' And putting 'rightly' in front of 'impartiality' hardly mitigates the basic message: the president wants better treatment for his side of national debates. He believes opposing arguments deserve less attention. Such a style of 'journalism' -- that panders to a national leader's wishes -- has not served citizens well in the countries where it has been implemented."

McCall, author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, cites studies that indicate coverage of President Obama tends to be positive. He points out, "Ultimately, political leaders complaining about the media normally don't help their causes. Nixon's attacks on the media didn't keep the media from looking for and finding the corruption in his administration. Sarah Palin's attacks on the 'lamestream media' came to define her and negated whatever other messages she might have had."

The column concludes, "Early in his presidency, John Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association. 'No president should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary,' he said. 'Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed -- and no republic can survive.' ... The Obama administration should reflect on Kennedy's words and remember that old 'ink by the barrel' expression. There are too many other national issues to ponder than to be distracted by critiques of particular media organizations."

You'll find the complete essay at College News.org.

A 1976 graduate of DePauw and faculty supervisor of student radio station WGRE, Jeffrey M. McCall is frequently called upon by major news outlets to discuss media matters and appeared on the January 25 edition of Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor. He was also quoted in a recent Hollywood Reporter story and another in California's Orange County Register.

Source: Indianapolis Star

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