Mr. Anchorman, Have You Ever Committed Adultery?
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 12 Feb 98 14:33:05 -0800
Subject: Mr. Anchorman, Have You Ever Committed Adultery?
Forwarded-by: Daniel Glasner <dglasner@SCSCOMM.COM>
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and news reports
"MR. ANCHORMAN, HAVE YOU EVER COMMITTED ADULTERY?"
by Jeff Cohen (Baltimore Sun, Feb. 8)
In recent years, mainstream news outlets have found it increasingly
acceptable to explore the private lives of public officials. The stated
or implied rationale is that the American people, in judging the
"character" of a politician, have a right to know if that official has
engaged in extramarital affairs. Often, the "character issue" has become
a media code word for marital infidelity.
Even though polls indicate that Americans believe the mass media now go
too far in investigating the intimate behavior of politicians, little seems
to slow down sex-hunting journalists, especially those on network TV and
"all-news" cable channels.
Maybe there's only one way to get these journalists to rethink their
actions: turn the tables on them. Perhaps it's necessary to vividly
demonstrate to top news media personalities - some of whom arguably wield
as much power as the politicians they cover - what it feels like to be on
the receiving end of persistent questions about their private lives.
So the next time you see a prominent TV journalist like Tom Brokaw or Peter
Jennings or Dan Rather at a public lecture or on a call-in talk show,
politely ask them if they've ever committed adultery.
If they react by saying that such information is none of your business,
you can tell them in self-righteous tones that the American public has a
right to judge the "character" of journalists who have vast power to
influence millions of people.
If you get a forthright denial, don't stop there -- especially if you've
seen any kind of a rumor of extramarital relations on the Internet or a
supermarket tabloid. Rephrase your query (this time you might mention oral
sex) and point out that your question "is not about sex, it's about
integrity and whether the American people can trust you to tell them the
If you get a denial that's hesitant or hedged, be prepared with a series
of follow-up questions - even if you feel embarrassed. In fact, like a TV
news anchor, admit your embarrassment as you proceed to ask "these
difficult questions." More importantly, see a hedged denial as your sign
to do more investigating, dig up old news or gossip and be ready to
challenge this journalist's character the next chance you can.
In the real world, most Americans would feel squeamish asking such
questions, even if it's just to prove a point about media overkill.
Unfortunately, journalists at top news outlets have been anything but
squeamish lately. It seems likely that well-known correspondents, pundits
and anchors would begin to think twice about personal queries if they
found themselves on the receiving end. Some questions are easier to ask
than to answer.
Jeff Cohen is the director of FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting), a
national media watch group, and co-author of "Wizards of Media Oz.".
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© 1998 Peter Langston