I know many if not most people won’t believe this but no editor ever told me to slant a story in favor of a particular political party or point of view.
Not for Democrats. Or Republicans. Or communists or fascists.
Sure, I spent most of my career covering sports so that wasn’t an issue when writing about linebackers or knuckleball pitchers. But at no time in 41 years of writing professionally have I been ordered to adopt a particular political point of view on a story.
Maybe things are different at The New York Times or Washington Post or Time magazine. I don’t know. I never worked at such august publications.
Instead, I’ve labored in the fields of much smaller papers and magazines, plugging along in obscurity.
The prevailing view in our overly cynical world now is that if anything happens you don’t like it must be the result of a vast conspiracy foisted on the world by dark forces. That’s the nihilistic approach of a certain Donald J. Trump of New York City.
Perhaps you’ve heard of him. If he’s going to lose the election it must be because it’s rigged or the media is out to get him. Or else it’s a Machiavellian cabal led by Santa Claus, Donald Duck and Harpo Marx that will cost him the White House.
I have it on good authority though that Santa has Trump on his naughty list so there may be something to that theory.
Anyhow, everybody everywhere in the media must be bought and paid for by sinister forces somewhere. Right? Maybe that’s the case. I don’t know.
Anyhow, before getting too deep into this post I want to thank Facebook friend and Fort Myers News-Press storyteller Amy Bennett Williams for inspiring this blog topic. She posted a Facebook thread discussing the premise that the media is bought and paid for.
It got me to thinking, something I’m not very good at.
Although most of my career was spent covering sports I’ve dabbled in writing about just about every topic imaginable – politics, theater, literature, weather, history, the environment, veterans and on and on and on.
Several years ago when I worked with Amy at The News-Press and was out of sports and in a vague but enjoyable general assignment mode I pitched a story about local politics to the editors.
My suggestion: Find which precincts in Lee County are the most Republican, most Democratic and most evenly split between the two. The editors liked the idea.
So I studied the voter rolls, contacted people in the precincts, scheduled interviews and then visited folks in their natural habitat, whether Democratic or Republican. The most heavily Republican precinct, as I recall, was Bonita Bay, a very much upscale and gated community in Bonita Springs.
I arranged an interview at a gentleman’s home there and he invited over several of his GOP pals. Everybody was gracious and I was treated well.
I recall at one point, though, one of the fellows, perhaps a retired captain of industry or titan of Wall Street, expressed doubts that I would faithfully and accurately report what they said. His premise was that as a likely member of the “liberal “ media I would strive to make them look bad.
I said the whole point of my visit was to hear what they said and report what they said. Now I couldn’t report everything all five or six guys said over a couple of hours but I tried presenting the strongest statements in support of their views that I could.
No editor told me to try to make these distinguished Republicans look stupid or greedy or superficial. That never happened.
I took the same approach visiting the most Democratic precinct and the most evenly split precinct for that story. And no editor told me to slant that story to make the Democrats look better or worse than the Republicans.
Maybe the editors thought my stories were shallow and poorly written and a waste of time. But there was never any effort to twist what I wrote or what anybody said.
Maybe things are different at different places and other reporters have other experiences.
But bought and paid for?
I never received a dime from anybody for slanting a story.
Do I have biases? Of course. Everybody does.
One of my biggest biases is that I prefer people who are nice, polite and rational to those who are mean, rude and irrational.
Did that affect my coverage of stories? It probably did in subtle ways.
We’ve lived in a cynical world for a long time and the rise of Trump has exacerbated that trend, making everything no matter how factual or innocent part of an evil plot.
That thinking is not new. Many people think everybody else is out to get them. Things never just happen. Paranoia reigns. Some evil genius or group is hiding behind the curtain pulling the strings.
I’ll give a couple quick examples from my sports writing career to illustrate.
Many years ago I did a feature on a fellow at a local bowling alley. I don’t remember the particulars. Maybe he won a state championship or bowled back-to-back 300 games.
I just don’t recall. But I recall the whiny complaints from people at other bowling alleys. You always liked that other bowling alley best. You always write about them. You don’t like us. The paper has never liked us.
That’s the nature of the sports department beast.
We always liked the other school more than your school. We always give the other school more coverage than your school.
The other example: Many years ago I did a Little League feature about, as I recall, a team with three or four sets of twins on it.
We thought it was a cool story. Nothing more. Nothing less.
But people from other local Little League organizations saw yet another example of our perfidious favoritism.
We didn’t write the story, so I was told, because it was a heart-warming little story. No! Hardly! It was another example of why the paper always favored that one league out of the 14 or 15 in the county.
It had to be part of a plot by the paper against the other leagues in the town. Why would we plot for one league and against the others? How would that benefit us? You got me.
Sometimes, it’s just a good story. Nothing more, nothing less.
And sometimes, monumentally unqualified and unfit candidates for high office will lose elections.
If he loses he can always blame Santa.