To say that it is early in the next presidential election year would be a mis-statement of some size, yet there is a flurry of excitement within the mongrel press organizations that feed on politicians. One of the items up for discussion by those that have never written a legitimate news story is whether or not a candidate has an obligation to make him or her self available to these wolves. Reporters can be intrusive to a fault, often showing no regard to the personal nature of their questions, often showing no thoughts to the feelings of those being questioned.
As a retired reporter and editor, I think it’s safe to say that I am writing from a position of knowledge and understanding. I have interviewed some who wished to be president, Mr. Reagan, Mr. Carter, Mr. Ford among the group. I interviewed Mr. Reagan one on one, the others at specific press conferences. At no time was it considered an obligation for the candidate to hold such interviews and conferences.
A reporter has an obligation to get a story. This is the job. Does a candidate have an obligation to make him or her self available to a reporter? No. The job is to make him or her self known and wanted by the electorate. That is the quest.
A candidate makes personal appearances before the public, a candidate releases information to the public through the press and advertising, a candidate has no obligation what-so-ever to be available to members of the press. For the first two centuries of our existence, American politicians rarely, if ever, spoke directly with reporters. Press conferences were rare, and for a politician to speak to reporters at a public function in which the politician spoke to the public, was unheard of.
My work in newsrooms began in 1958. I’ve worked through hot lead and iron heads all the way to editing an on-line news journal, and watched as reporting has grown more and more insensitive, from those being interviewed to those listening to or reading the reports. Passion is an important part of reporting, but so should courtesy.
With the advent of almost instant information by way of electronic devices that most could never have conceived of less than a decade ago, there are many that feel it is important to know every single detail of a candidate’s life. With some of the questions I’ve heard asked recently, I know for a fact that many so called reporters today would not work in most of my past editorial departments.
Some of those in the news business today feel they have the right to an answer, regardless of the question. Too many of our politicians are under the belief that they have to answer. A good friend of mine, John Oakes, a criminal defense attorney, has the proper answer right on his business card. “Just say NO.” It simply isn’t an obligation on the part of the candidate to answer every question thrown at him or her, or to make him or her self available to any and every reporter.