Frenemies: politics and the media

By Levi Larson

Politicians and journalists love to hate each other. Both are guilty of complaining about the wrongs of the other, but without one another where would they be? The relationship between the two is one of general distrust and dislike, but also one of great significance. Politicians and the press push their agendas on one another, each hoping to gain the advantage.

Sharyl Attkinson speaking at The Washington Center. Photo by Jill Van Wyke.

Reporters and government officials are quick to throw fire at one another. The reporters for a lack of transparency. Politicians feel pestered by the constant media presence and lack of privacy. One of today’s main speakers was former CBS reporter, Sharyl Attkisson. Currently, Attkisson is in the midst of a suit against the U.S. Department of Justice and Postal Service. The suit is over unlawful taping of phone calls and emails. As a former CBS reporter, Attkisson shared many stories of frustrations with government’s resistance to releasing information that should easily accessible under FOIA. For those who do not know what FOIA is, it is the Freedom of Information Act. The act is designed to keep information available as public knowledge. FOIA applies to the executive branch, but conveniently not the legislative branch that wrote it. In theory this should make investigation journalism straight-forward and simple, but as Attkinson explained, the press secretaries in charge of releasing information are suspiciously unavailable. Another struggle mentioned was bias on the part of CBS. It is Attkisson’s belief that the network neglected to release videos in which Obama admits he did not refer to the attack in Benghazi as an act of terror. To Attkisson the only reason to withhold such a story from viewers was to protect the president at the nearing 2012 election. Stories of frustration on the job are found in her book, Stonewalled.

To contrast the media’s viewpoint is that of those working on the government side of things. For one of our site visits we were able to meet with Drake alum and new media coordinator for Senator Claire McCaskill, Anamarie Rebori. Rebori’s job is to foster productive relations with the press. Good relationships can advance coverage more favorable to the Senator. While these connections may mean taking an inconvenient interview or calling certain reporters up just to chat, the benefits to fostering these ties include getting news outlets to cover selected stories. Working with the press, Rebori understands their importance in the political realm. Without their good graces her job as media coordinator becomes much more difficult. This viewpoint comes from an individual hired to correspond with the press. As for politicians themselves, there isn’t always as much civility.

Politics and the press go hand-in-hand, whether they want to or not. Love or hate each other they thrive off of one another. Without politics, Attkisson wouldn’t have her story of government distrust. Without the press, Rebori would not hold a position labeled new media coordinator. At the end of the day they need one other.

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